Guidance Around Coronavirus

From a message sent on March 11, 2020.

Dear Friends,


As we continue to learn more about the COVID-19 virus, I offer a few more words about our practices as a people of faith in the midst of a health crisis.

Click here to read my original guidance, sent on February 28th.

As faith communities, we are called to be calm and compassionate voices in the midst of fear. We are also called to seek and serve all persons and are charged with loving one another by taking seriously situations that may put one another in harm’s way.

We know and understand that this outbreak will escalate and we will continue to be generous to one another and adaptive in our practices to slow the spread and keep folks healthy and safe. While, for many, the illness may be low-risk, for the elderly and immunocompromised it may be deadly. Out of compassion for one another, I urge you to take precautious to protect the vulnerable among us.

Bishop Hougland reflects on what it means to be compassionate and mindful in the midst of the global health crisis. Watch on Facebook.


The following are some new and reiterated guidances for practice in your parish. Please use your best judgement to make the appropriate decisions for your community. These decisions should be made by the priest in consultation with the appropriate lay leaders, or, in the case of no long-term clergy presence, by the wardens of the congregation.

  • Regarding the Clergy – clergy should wash their hands with soap and water before services and use hand sanitizer visibly before distributing communion. If you feel sick or have any symptoms, please remain at home.
  • Regarding Communion – Use of the common cup with proper purificator is low risk. Some research suggests that metal chalices may be less conducive to the spread of germs than ceramic. Though it may seem counterintuitive, intinction is not a safer choice. Please remember that receiving in one kind (bread or wafer only) is full participation in the Eucharist.I understand the canons to require both bread and wine to be available to the congregation. You may choose to offer only a small portion of wine and offer it only to those who seek it rather than pass it along the altar rail.
  • Regarding the Peace – please avoid direct contact. A wave, elbow bump, bow, peace sign, or other greeting is recommended. Please also refrain from holding hands during the Lord’s Prayer or at any other time during the service.
  • Regarding the Offering – please avoid passing a plate from one person to the other. Ushers may walk plates up and down the aisle, or plates may be located in a central place for people to leave their contributions.
  • Regarding Baptismal Fonts – when possible, water in baptismal fonts should be drained and the practice of dipping hands in the water should be discontinued.
  • Regarding Morning Prayer – our tradition offers more than one way to come together in worship and several of our congregations are already familiar with this expression of our life of worship. This may be a season to practice sharing in Morning Prayer. Please consider this office as an alternative to the Eucharist for a season or some portion of upcoming Sundays.
  • Regarding cancellations – For us, gathering for worship and prayer is central to our life as Christians. Unless strong recommendations are made by health authorities, I believe we should still gather. Consider using your local school district as a metric – if schools are closed due to health concerns, congregations might close as well.If you need to make that decision, please consider how to make a remote gathering possible amongst your community using Zoom or Facebook Live. You may choose to explore live-streaming your services now to include individuals that, due to personal decision, may need to remain home while others gather.
  • Regarding coffee hour or other served meals – if you need to serve food, please remind your volunteers to wash their hands and handle food with plastic gloves or utensils. Self-service buffets are not recommended. You may choose to serve in individual containers or by food servers wearing gloves.
  • Regarding Eucharistic Visitors and pastoral visits – please ensure that visitors wash their hands and throughly sanitize all vessels. Consider restricting home visits to ordained persons for a time and moving all non-essential visits to a phone call or video chat. Please find ways to check in with your most vulnerable members of your community as this crisis unfolds.
  • Regarding meetings – please consider how you might utilize telephone or online meeting tools, like Zoom, for regular meetings such as bible studies, vestry, and more. Non-essential in-person meetings should be avoided.
  • Regarding outreach programs – consider how you might be called to respond to those experiencing the economic impact of this crisis. If your ministry requires feeding or close contact with others, please be careful to sanitize, wash hands, and use plastic gloves in food preparation both to protect yourself and the people you serve.
  • Regarding the church building – please institute rigorous regular or daily cleaning of all common surfaces, including altar rails, door knobs, etc. Additionally, please make sure you have sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content available throughout your building and at every entrance.
  • Regarding parish staff – please remain flexible regarding sick leave. Anyone caring for a family member or feeling sick should remain at home without penalty. Consider allowing any staff who can work remotely to do so.

Again, at this time, these are recommendations and not directives. I trust our parish leaders to exercise their agency in making the best decisions for their community and individuals to make the best decisions for themselves. We will continue to evaluate, act, and adapt as we come to more concrete understanding of the magnitude of the crisis.

You may find the following resources helpful as you make your decisions:

Our offices, with the wider Church, are continuing to monitor the situation and weigh the risks of planned diocesan gatherings. At this time, next week’s clergy continuing education day and this summer’s mission trip to the Dominican Republic have both been cancelled. If other events are cancelled, registrants will be notified and details will be released via our bi-diocesan newsletter.

And, please, remember to pray – pray for all who are ill and all who care for them. Pray for those without access to consistent or quality healthcare. Pray for those for whom the economic impact of lost wages and low activity is great. Pray for the Church – that we might greet one another with generosity, care, and compassion, especially in this season in which fears are high and separation is easy. Know that I always hold you in my prayers and I hope you do the same for me.


The Rt. Rev. Whayne M. Hougland, Jr.
Bishop Provisional, Eastern Michigan
Bishop Diocesan, Western Michigan

Bishop Hougland’s Christmas Message | 2019

The following is a transcription of the video:

Stir up your power, O Lord. And with great might, come among us. And because we are slowly hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help deliver us. Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Hey Western and Eastern Michigan. Whayne Hougland here.

That is the collect for the third Sunday of Advent and it is a beautiful collect because it invites the spirit and power of God to come stir us up, which is kind of what Christmas is all about.

The question that I think we should be asking ourselves in this Advent season of preparing for Christmas is – what is this Messiah we are expecting? What is the Jesus God Among Us, the Emmanuel, that we’re seeking to receive on Christmas?

I think a lot of people, particularly in ancient times, thought of the Messiah as a political hero, a military leader, someone who would break in to the difficult times and just make everything good and holy and create a heaven on earth immediately. And everything would be great and happy.

That the Messiah would come and make everything good. Everyone happy. Everyone healed and whole and restore the whole world under this messiah, this Savior, this King, this Lord of Lords. Except that’s not what we get with this Jesus. This Jesus is not the Messiah that we expect and I wonder if it’s even the Messiah that we want.

Jesus instead, the Messiah, comes in the form of a child as humble and vulnerable an entity as we can relate to. And he comes among us and dwells among us and lives among us and has for over 2,000 years, affecting our lives internally and changing us, not by some bolt of lightning, but slowly. Slowly coming amongst us and changing us into the loving, compassionate, forgiving beings that we were made to be.

What are you looking for in the Messiah? What are you hoping to receive at Christmas? It may not be what you expect. Do we just want a mighty God to come in and fix everything? Or do we not have some share, some role, some relationship in the bringing the kingdom of God to bear as Jesus did?

This is an icon that I picked up in Bethlehem when I was on pilgrimage there a year and a half ago. It’s an icon of Mary and it is unique to Bethlehem because you can see how colorful it is, how bright, and there’s a slight sort of smile on Mary’s face that she is overjoyed to be carrying the Savior of the World – the true Messiah.

There are other icons of Mary that are pretty common but they’re often brown and more somber and there’s not a slight smile on Mary’s face. That’s typically associated with Jerusalem and Jesus’ death.

Here we are on the cusp of Christmas and the birthplace of Jesus in Bethlehem. And it’s here in Bethlehem that Mary bears and brings to bear the Son of God into the World.

The question for us becomes how can we assist Mary in this work. How might we as well cary this Jesus, our Messiah, into the world?

Looking forward to seeing you in the new year. Hope its a blessed and holy and happy one. And that you each have a very Merry Christmas. Thank you.

Suscita tu poder, oh Señor, y con gran potencia ven a nosotros; ya que estamos impedidos penosamente por nuestros pecados, haz que tu abundante gracia y misericordia nos ayuden y libren prontamente; por Jesucristo nuestro Señor.

Hola, Michigan Occidental y Oriental. Whayne Hougland por acá.

Esta es la colecta para el tercer domingo de Adviento. Es una colecta muy hermosa porque invita al espíritu y el poder de Dios a venir a despertarnos, que a fin de cuentas, es de lo que se trata la Navidad.

La pregunta que creo que deberíamos hacernos en esta temporada de Adviento, de preparación para la Navidad es: ¿Quién es este Mesías que estamos esperando? ¿Quién es el Dios de Jesús entre nosotros, el Emmanuel, que estamos buscando recibir en Navidad?

Creo que mucha gente, particularmente en la antigüedad, pensaba en el Mesías como un héroe político, un líder militar, alguien que llegaría en tiempos difíciles y simplemente haría todo bueno y santo y crearía un cielo en la tierra inmediatamente. Y todo sería feliz para siempre.

El Mesías vendría y lo arreglaría todo. Todo el mundo sería feliz. Todas las enfermedades sanarían y el mundo entero sería renovado bajo este Mesías, este Salvador, este Rey, este Señor de Señores. Excepto que eso no es lo que obtenemos con este Jesús. Este Jesús no es el Mesías que esperamos y me pregunto si es incluso el Mesías que queremos.

En cambio, Jesús, el Mesías, viene en la forma de un niño, un ser humilde y vulnerable con el que podemos relacionarnos. El viene entre nosotros, y habita entre nosotros, y vive entre nosotros, y lo ha hecho durante más de 2,000 años, afectando nuestras vidas internamente y cambiándonos, no por la fuerza, sino lentamente. Viniendo a vivir entre nosotros lentamente y transformándonos en los seres amorosos, compasivos y perdonadores que fuimos creados para ser.

¿Qué estás buscando en el Mesías? ¿Qué esperas recibir en Navidad? Puede que no sea lo que esperas. ¿Queremos que un Dios poderoso llegue y lo arregle todo? ¿O será que nos toca hacer algo, jugar algún papel, cultivar alguna relación, para que el reino de Dios venga, tal como lo hizo Jesús?

Este es un icono que recogí en Belén cuando estaba en peregrinación allí hace un año y medio. Es un ícono de María y es exclusivo de Belén porque se puede ver cuán colorido es, cuán brillante, y que María tiene dibujada una sonrisa porque está encantada de llevar en su seno al Salvador del Mundo: el verdadero Mesías.

Hay otros íconos de María que son bastante comunes, pero a menudo son marrones y más sombríos y no hay ninguna sonrisa en el rostro de María. Estos están típicamente asociados con Jerusalén y la muerte de Jesús.

Aquí estamos en la cúspide de la Navidad y el lugar de nacimiento de Jesús en Belén. Y es aquí en Belén donde María lleva y trae al Hijo del Dios al mundo.

La pregunta para nosotros es cómo podemos ayudar a María en esta labor. ¿Cómo podríamos también llevar a este Jesús, nuestro Mesías, al mundo?

Espero verlos en el año nuevo. Espero que sea un año bendecido, santo y feliz. Y que cada uno tenga una muy feliz Navidad. Gracias.

Bishop Hougland’s Message to the Diocese Post-Sabbatical

Watch on Facebook // Watch on YouTube

The following is a transcript of this video message:

Hi, Western Michigan. Whayne Hougland here. I’m back!

I wanted to take a few moments to say thank you. Thank you for the great generosity and the great gift that you gave Dana and I to have this time away – to take a step back to reconnect with each other and to rest and to explore some of the world. And we just can’t thank you enough for the great gift. It is a rare opportunity to do this, and I don’t take it lightly. And I just want you to know how much I really do appreciate it.

So, what did we do? We flew out of here on the first of May. We flew to Italy, and spent time in the great cities of Italy: Venice and Florence, Siena, Assisi, Rome, and also some time down in the southern coast of Amalfi and got to see Positano and Mount Vesuvius. Saw the Vatican and went to the Uffizi museum in Florence and countless churches in the countryside of Tuscany. It really is beautiful. That was a great gift.

And then from there we went on to Spain and met my parents and spent some time in and around Madrid.

And then we flew up north to the Basque country which is where my grandparents are from. We spent one of the best days in the little village of Natxitua where my grandfather was born. It’s on the very northern coast of Spain. Can’t be more than a couple dozen buildings in this little community. We went to lunch that day at the only restaurant in town and we got to talking with the owner of the restaurant. My mother said, “I’m an Astoreca from here,” and so the owner got on the phone and started calling people. And some folks came to have lunch with us, and it was really wonderfully touching and moving. It was really just a great experience.

And then from there we travelled a little bit on the Camino de Santiago. We drove – I didn’t walk this time. I got to show Dana some of the sights that I had toured nine years ago when I made my pilgrimage to Santiago. We spent some time in Portugal and then back in Spain, southern Spain through Seville and Granada. And then we left out of Barcelona.

I’ve never eaten so much pasta and drank so much red wine. It was really great. And I didn’t gain too much weight either. We had a really wonderful time.

Along the way, we sold our house in North Carolina – yay! – after almost six years now. So that was a great burden that’s been lifted.

And when we came in July, we had to move from our house that we’ve been renting here in Grand Rapids. We moved from our five-bedroom home to a one-bedroom apartment. And we did that intentionally because we decided that we needed to let go of some stuff that we’ve been holding on to for too long. We spent almost three weeks, probably more than three weeks, trying to sort through 35 years of marriage and raising two children and figuring out what is essential and what is not.

You may know Marie Kondo. She’s a Japanese organizational consultant. She has this way of looking at your stuff and determining whether you should keep it or not by saying, “Does this bring you joy or not?”

So, we spent a lot of time trying to determine what brings us joy. And we ended up giving away a lot of stuff. Most of our furniture, most of our clothes, just about all of our children’s art projects… I mean, you know how it is. So, we had to sort through all that stuff, and it was really hard. It was super emotional, and it was also kind of freeing.

And I think if there’s been a theme that’s been emerging for me as I’ve been reflecting on what this sabbatical has been, it’s that taking the time to assess where you find joy in life and what are the things that bring you joy. It’s a great way to sift through all the stuff and get to what is essential. And letting go of those things that are not essential, what I’ve found is you really do find space for what’s new. I think what God was doing with meanyway in this sabbatical was trying to clear out space so that I might be ready and open for what is new.

And so, we’re back now. This is my first week back in the office. Got a lot of stuff coming up on the agenda moving forward. And it’s a lot of hopeful and exciting, for some, maybe anxious kind of things. But I think that in the spirit of trying to find our joy and trying to determine what is essential and seeking to be open to what God is giving us, there’s a lot of hope for the future.

You’ve probably seen that two of our staff members have resigned. First of all, Gennie Callard, who has done a really wonderful job for many, many years has decided to resign and move back closer to family in Massachusetts. And I really respect her and honor her for her work here and the way she is moving forward to care for her family. Thank you, Gennie, for all the good work that you’ve done. You’ve been a real blessing, and you’ll be missed.

And Tricia, who’s only been here for a short time as my assistant, just got an offer she couldn’t refuse from her home denomination to serve on the leadership team of the primary authority for that denomination. It’s like working for Michael Curry, our Presiding Bishop. And so she said she just couldn’t pass it up. We thank her also for the good work that she’s done here in helping us transition to new offices. And we wish her well, wish them both well and God bless.

We will miss them. But I think it’s also an opportunity for us to reassess and to reconsider how we’ve done things and how we might do things fresh and that’s quite hopeful.

Coming up almost immediately – this weekend as a matter of fact – we’ll begin our pre-convention meetings to discuss budget and plans for our convention in November. We’re going to start dancing intentionally real close now with the Diocese of Eastern Michigan as we move forward with that relationship and see what exciting things are in store there.

And so I’m really looking forward to being here. And I’m really glad to be back. I found that not being so busy wasn’t so good. I prefer being busy, and so I’m glad to be back with you.

I hope you’re well. Hope you’ve had a good summer. I’m looking forward to the fall and an exciting new year coming up as we approach convention. And I look forward to seeing you out there.

God bless and thanks.

Departures from Diocesan Staff

Dear Friends,

Two of our diocesan staff members have announced their plans to move on to their next phase of ministry.

– – –

After sixteen years on our diocesan staff, Gennie Callard has submitted her resignation as the Bishop’s Assistant for Children, Youth and Young Adult Ministries. She will be moving back to Massachusetts to be closer to her family.

Over the course of her ministry among us, Gennie has developed top-tier programs for the formation in our community and has helped curate a culture in our diocese in which the youngest among us are honored and heard at all levels of leadership. In addition to our camping programs, Gennie has helped to create opportunities for our youngest Episcopalians and those who support them across our diocese, state, and wider church through convention, youth programming, the Episcopal Youth Event, trainings, retreats, and more.

In addition to her work in children’s and youth ministry, Gennie has worked closely with Sudanese Grace, caring and supporting them in their development as a congregation. Most recently, through her work as President of Province V of the Episcopal Church, Gennie was instrumental in the creation and organization of the wonderfully successful Big Provincial Gathering, held last month in Kalamazoo.

Gennie has been a champion of young people in our church, increasing the impact of their witness and ministry amongst us. We are grateful for her commitment to young people, passion for ministry, and her many years of leadership in our diocese. She departs from us with our thanks and blessings for all of life’s adventures before her. Gennie’s ministry with us will conclude August 31st. A celebration of Gennie and her ministry is being planned for sometime later this fall. Details to come.

– – –

Tricia Leistra has also resigned in order to accept an unexpected offer to serve on the national staff of the Reformed Church of America, her home denomination.

Tricia came on board earlier this Spring as the Diocesan Office Administrator, supporting the bishop’s day-to-day activities and the organization of the diocesan office. In these few short months, Tricia has helped us to live into our transition of our diocesan office from Kalamazoo to Wyoming and helped to improve efficiency and transparency in our diocesan operations.

Her outside perspective has been an asset to our community as we move forward to becoming more responsive, flexible, and in-tuned with the diocese and the wider church. Tricia’s ministry with us will conclude August 28th.

– – –

I am grateful for the leadership of these two incredible staff members and send them off with our sincere gratitude for their time with us and prayers as they move ahead.

Almighty and everlasting God, from whom cometh every good and perfect gift: Send down upon our friends, the healthful Spirit of thy grace: and, that they may truly please thee, pour upon them the continual dew of thy blessing. Grant this, O Lord, for the honor of our Advocate and Mediator, Jesus Christ. Amen.


The Rt. Rev. Whayne M. Hougland, Jr.
Bishop Diocesan,
The Episcopal Diocese of Western Michigan

A Milestone Year for Women in the Church

by the Rev. Canon Valerie Ambrose

In my visits with parishes and vestries around our diocese I often hear the question, “Why does the church move so slowly?”  That certainly was a question posed by supporters of women’s ordination to the priesthood for 87 years after the first women were approved to be ordained deaconesses and for more than four decades after the first woman was ordained a priest in the Anglican Communion.

Why does the church move so slowly?

This year marks the 75thanniversary of the ordination of Florence Tim-Oi in Hong Kong by The Rt. Rev. R. O. Hall.  However, she delayed serving as a priest in order to protect her bishop from censure while waiting for the Anglican Communion to acknowledge her ordination.  Considered a counter-revolutionary by the Communist government of the People’s Republic of China, Tim-Oi was forced to undergo political re-education and to work on a farm and later in a factory until 1974.  She eventually was allowed to exercise her priestly ministry in the nationalized Chinese church.  After visiting family in Canada in 1981 she moved there and was licensed in the dioceses of Montreal and Toronto, where she served until her death in 1992.

Two other women, Jane Hwang and Joyce Bennett, were ordained to the priesthood in Hong Kong in 1971 by Bishop Gilbert Baker. Those ordinations fueled the debate in our country over whether women could be ordained as priests here as well. In the preceding year our General Convention had eliminated the deaconess canon and voted to ordain women as deacons equally as men.  At that same convention, where women could serve as deputies for the first time, lay deputies voted to approve the ordination of women to the priesthood, but the clerical order defeated that resolution.  Again at the 1973 General Convention the vote to approve the ordination of women to the priesthood failed to pass.

Following that convention 11 women deacons were “irregularly” ordained to the priesthood in Philadelphia in 1974.  Another 4 women were ordained priests in 1975 in Washington, D.C.   At the 1976 General Convention growing support for women’s ordination led to both the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies finally approving women to be ordained to the priesthood and episcopate.  A short 13 years later in 1989, The Rev. Barbara C. Harris was consecrated the first female bishop of our Church, and in 2006 The Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori was the first woman to be elected Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, thereby making her the first female Primate of the Anglican Communion.

To some the Church moves far too slowly.  To some the Church moves far too quickly.

To some the Church moves far too slowly.  To some the Church moves far too quickly.  But most would agree that the structure and polity of our Church allows for ample study, debate and prayerful discernment as we strive to heed the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Since the first ordination of a woman to the priesthood 75 years ago, tremendous equality for women in the Church has been achieved and appreciated in many corners of the worldwide Anglican Communion.  May the gifts of all God’s sons and daughters continue to be affirmed and celebrated.  And may everyone’s talents and faith also be understood to be imbued by God for the carrying out the mission of the Church–to restore all people to unity with one another and God.

Patience and Impatience

by the Rev. Canon Anne Hallmark

One mild spring morning during a retreat, two women were walking in a field. 

The younger woman was lamenting how unimportant her life was, how far from perfect she was as an individual, how little glory she was giving to God.  As she was saying these things, the pair came upon a very small and flawless light blue flower surrounded by green grass.

The older woman asked the younger, “Is there anything wrong with that flower?”  “Nothing.” “Is the flower unimportant?” “No, it’s beautiful.”  “Does it glorify God completely?” “Oh! Yes.”

When I consider June as Pride Month,” I believe the point is the same.

We, each of us, no matter what our life and work, glorify the Living God by blossoming as fully and freely as we are able, remembering always that it is the Love of God that creates us as we are and keeps us becoming.

For me, Pride Month honors participation in the long march out of the darkness of active repression, contemptuous stereotyping, and willful ignorance.

For me, Pride Month honors participation in the long march out of the darkness of active repression, contemptuous stereotyping, and willful ignorance.  Many have already braved much to speak up, to be visible, to demonstrate against such evil.  I wish I could say that the road ahead is clear but I know it is lined with badly frightened people who attempt to hide their fear with rage, aggression, and confusion.  Even so, Love marches on.

Thank you, each and everyone who has found and used your voice to express the wholeness of who you are, particularly with regard to something so tender and vulnerable as your sexual identity.  Thank you for your patience and understanding.  Thank you for your impatience and outrage.  Thank you for speaking out, for being out.

Thank you for your patience and understanding.  Thank you for your impatience and outrage.

I believe that by your generous and courageous words and deeds, you are living out the Baptismal Vow each of us makes every time we renew those vows, the commitment “to seek and serve Christ in all persons”.  Thank you for calling all of us to more abundant possibilities of love fully and freely expressed.

The lives of all who are celebrating and being celebrated by Pride Month fill me with gratitude for the risks our brothers and sisters have taken, some smaller, some larger, some life-shattering – the risk of expressing their individual humanity, the struggle to blossom as the unique creation each one is.  And, I am deeply grateful for the the gatherings this month that express, support, encourage, and joyfully celebrate this way of walking in the Love of God.

Ascension Day

by the Rev. Canon Bill Spaid

Ascension Day is one of my favorite feast days. I love the scriptures, prayers, psalms, hymns, and just the fact that by the time Ascension Day rolls around spring really has arrived here in the north.

Sadly, though, this festival of the church often gets lost in the plethora of graduations, proms, Mothers’ Day, Memorial Day and other springtime events.

I find a whimsical delight in the imagery of the Ascension; our Lord’s sandaled feet dangling from a cloud and the disciples standing with their mouths agape wondering what was going on. I imagine that had I been there I would have been grabbing for those feet trying to pull him back to earth. But the whole point of the Ascension is that Jesus is no longer the Master of a small band of disciples in a particular place and time, but the ruler of the universe who transcends time and place.

Think about how in our prayers we often are grabbing for Jesus’ feet – “O Lord be with us…, O Lord please help me…, O Lord if only… O Lord, please fix/heal/save…”  You get the idea.  They’re fine prayers, really, but do we also pray with imagination and hope and a longing for what might be in a kingdom that already is.

In the collect for Ascension Day, we pray that as Jesus has ascended into heaven, so may we also in heart and mind there ascend.

I wonder what our churches would look like if we prayed with the imagination of what heaven would be if it was our community. Do we share a vision of hope that enlarges our scope of the world and all that is holy, and embraces a mystery that calls us into new and deeper relationships with God and one another, and the world around us?

I certainly see heaven apparent in many instances in my visits to parishes – where vision and imagination are transformed into generous engagement with their communities in service, and where formation contributes to a lively sense of faith and commitment, and where people feel safe and welcome to participate.

Our Canon Missioners — Val, Anne and I – would enjoy and welcome the opportunity to engage in conversations with you about how we can more confidently look to Jesus and see the hope to which he has called you and the immeasurable greatness in his power in us who believe.

The kingdom of God, my friends, is in our midst.

That All May Be One

by the Rev. Mike Wernick

During the first week of April, I attended (for the first time) the National Workshop on Christian Unity, held this year in St. Louis, Missouri. For over 50 years, the mission of the workshop has been to celebrate the spirit of unity that exists among Christians and search for ways to overcome the divisions that remain, by providing seminars for all who are concerned with Christian unity.

I attended as the Ecumenical and Interreligious Officer representing both the Episcopal Diocese of Western Michigan and the Episcopal Diocese of Eastern Michigan. I went with a sense of hopefulness because I reject denominational tribalism – the “we’re right, you’re wrong” thinking that pervades some congregations and some parts of Christendom, and given expression by minister Michael Kinnamon when he said: “Denominations are wonderful adjectives, but idolatrous nouns.”

I went with a sense of hopefulness because I reject denominational tribalism – the “we’re right, you’re wrong” thinking that pervades some congregations and some parts of Christendom.

But I also went with some trepidation, because as a gay man and priest (who is married to my partner), I have encountered my share of cultural and theological homophobia.

In my role as EIO, I have also attended LARC (Lutherans, Anglicans, and Roman Catholic) Conferences for several years. At LARC, each denomination takes yearly turns selecting the conference’s speaker and theme and leads worship on the middle (longest) day. The first year I attended, just several months after the SCOTUS decision regarding marriage equality, the Roman Catholic speaker asserted that “marriage was being assaulted from the very depths of Hell.” Three years later, a distributed Roman Catholic brochure on ecumenical dialogue concluded: “With a focus on two case studies concerning migration/immigration and same sex relations, the document concludes that even if Anglicans lack a clear authoritative voice on moral questions, the way they approach these issues shares important common features with ours.” And so I wondered whether and to what degree my experience at LARC would be reflected in my experience at the NWCU. It was not.

Conference participants, whose focus was more on what unites us than on what divides us, came from the UCC, the UMC, the PCUSA, the ELCA, TEC, the RCA, the Roman Church, and the Moravian Church, among others. There were more opportunities for worship than usual, and it was contemplative worship led by Br. Emile from the Taizé Community (in the contemplative tradition, God is understood to transcend all the distinctions and categories and labels that we humans impose on God). And workshop sessions were centered around themes of welcome, care of creation, spiritual dialogue, and building the beloved community.

There was even one conversation led by a United Methodist Bishop and a Roman Catholic Archbishop who have forged a deep friendship in spite of the social justice issues to which our minds race. And I must believe that this is due in part to an approach which rejects broad brush strokes, in favor of subtly and nuance, and which we must recognize that what was theologically formative/normal for one, was not expected to be/become normative for the other. In other words, neither one conveyed a sense of moral superiority.

We must recognize that what was theologically formative/normal for one, was not expected to be/become normative for the other.

There was, however, an update by leaders of the United Methodist Church about the Special Session of General Conference, held February 23-26, 2019. This special session was called to vote on three submitted plans related to human sexuality: the Traditionalist Plan, which would broaden the definition of “self-avowed, practicing homosexual,” put penalties in place for disobedience to the Book of Discipline, and require bishops, pastors and annual conferences to certify adherence to the Book of Discipline; the One Church Plan, which would remove restrictive language from the Book of Discipline that prohibits same-gender weddings in UMC properties and ordination of “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals,” and would add language to protect churches and pastors who choose not to allow same-gender marriages; and the Connectional Conference Plan, which would replace the current jurisdictional conferences with three connectional conferences based on affinity –– Progressive, Traditional, and Unity. All three would use a general Book of Discipline but be able to adapt other portions to their context for ministry.

Due in large part to The United Methodist Church’s more conservative global perspective, the Traditionalist Plan passed by a vote of 438 to 384. This means that the UMC’s current statements about homosexuality, same-gender marriage, and the ordination of LGBTQ persons –– as outlined in the Book of Discipline –– have not fundamentally changed.

But even before the Special Session of General Conference closed, a motion was passed to seek a decision from the Judicial Council on the constitutionality of the Traditionalist Plan’s legislative petitions. Several weeks later, the Judicial Council met (from April 23-25) in Evanston, Illinois, and upheld the Traditionalist Plan.

At this writing, The Episcopal Church is in full-communion with The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, The Moravian Church – Northern and Southern Provinces, The Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar, India, Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht, The Philippine Independent Church, and The Church of Sweden.

And more than fifty years ago, General Convention approved full-communion dialogue with the United Methodist Church. In 2002 The Episcopal Church – United Methodist Dialogue Committee was formed, and in 2017, the committee released a full communion proposal: A Gift to the World: Co-Laborers in the Healing of Brokenness. This proposal would need to be affirmed at the 2020 General Conference of The United Methodist Church and at the 2021 General Convention of The Episcopal Church in order to become canon law. For us Episcopalians though, February’s Special Session vote and the Judicial Council’s support of that vote may seem to put this proposed full- communion agreement into jeopardy.

But meeting from April 29-30 in Austin, Texas, the joint Episcopal – United Methodist Dialogue Committee said that they have decided to continue on this path toward full communion.

But meeting from April 29-30 in Austin, Texas, the joint Episcopal – United Methodist Dialogue Committee said that they have decided to continue on this path toward full communion. “We do not make this decision naively and are fully cognizant of the hard realities our churches face. We feel the pain and inexpressible weight of discrimination that is the burden of LGBTQ Christians whose lives are so often objectified, debated, or dismissed. We acknowledge that the decisions of the 2019 Special Session of UMC have deepened divisions. And yet, we believe that what we are experiencing in the various crises of our denominational life is the birth pangs of something remarkable, something new. We desire as a dialogue committee to take the next faithful step in this journey, trusting in the God who alone holds the future and who may yet be calling us to something bigger and grander than we have imagined.”

The Rev. William Fleener once said, “Look around at creation, and if you can – if you’re able – show me evidence that God favors uniformity.”

“Look around at creation, and if you can – if you’re able – show me evidence that God favors uniformity.”

This calling us to something bigger, to boundlessness, to being One, is what God always does. And it finds expression –– and imagination –– in Psalm 118:5: “I called out to God from my narrowness, and God answered me with a vast expanse.”

I’ll take the vast expanse, thank you.

Bishop Hougland’s Message Before Sabbatical

Hey, Western Michigan! Hope you’re doing okay.

As I record this, it is a week before Holy Week and we’re counting down to the Easter season and my taking off on sabbatical, beginning May 1st.

I’ll be gone out of the office, May 1st through about August 10th. For two of those months, Dana and I are going to be traveling to Europe; to Italy and to Spain. My parents are going to come and visit us in Spain and we’re going to travel together for a while.

The hope is to really just to connect and spend time together, just the two of us, and to see places in the world that we’ve only dreamed of seeing. I’m really looking forward to having some time to rest and relax and to put the weight of carrying the Office of Bishop down for a bit, so that when I come back in August, we can be rested and renewed for whatever God has for us in the fall.

Everything else will continue on as it has been. The Diocesan Council will continue to gather as is regularly scheduled, to do the work that it’s continuing to do. The Standing Committee will continue to gather as it will. I will retain my authority as Bishop while I’m away. If anyone needs me, they can reach me. With technology, we shouldn’t have any problems, and I don’t foresee there being any major issues while I’m away. We have the folks here that can handle things without any problem.

The diocesan staff will continue to function as they have. Bill Spaid will be the point person for them and for you, if you don’t reach staff directly. He will be managing the activities taking place within the staffing structure and at the office.

Sabbath is a time when we set aside space to be with God, and in that being with God, finding quiet space to find ourselves as well and to be renewed in that quiet and reflective place. That’s what I hope sabbath will be for me.

I’ve had one sabbath, one sabbatical, in my 21 years now as an ordained person, and it was a great renewing event in my life. I trust that this will be as well.

I couldn’t have this opportunity without your great generosity and your support. I appreciate all the gifts that you’ve given Dana and me, to be your bishop and to serve here among you. It’s a great honor and privilege.

We look forward to seeing you again in August and have a great summer. Thank you.

An Easter Message from Bishop Hougland

Hello, Western Michigan. Hope you are well. We are nearing the end of our Lenten journey, closing in on Easter and I wanted to share some thoughts with you to help you celebrate this special time of year for us. Lent, as you know, is a time of discipline – a time of fasting and prayer, a time for introspection and reflection, and most of all, a time for repentance, turning around, changing direction, of moving towards God instead of away from God. It’s a time of practice forming a discipline of prayer, study, and reflection to help us get centered on God, so that when Easter comes, we can experience the great joy of new life. Some people say that there’s a reason for everything – when bad things happen. When hurricanes happen or floods happen. When there are terrible crimes and mass shootings, as we continue to see.

We say, “Well, that was just part of God’s plan.”

We say that because we really don’t know what to say. We say that because we want to have some sense of control over what has taken place. We say those sorts of things because we want to believe that we can understand the things that happened in the world when we really can’t explain it.

But as we understand Easter, we understand that there is actually a reason for everything. And that reason is resurrection.

Some want to believe that God is like a puppet master – perhaps controlling our lives like we’re puppets, causing things to happen so that we’ll come back to God because we’re bad and sinful people, which we can be. But that’s really thinking more about ourselves than about God.

For me, the providence of God is so beautifully evident in the season of Easter – in the story of the resurrection, that God takes a terrible thing – the death of his son – and creates something good out of it. And that good is resurrection.

God is like a magnet drawing us towards God – drawing the bad out of us and drawing us towards goodness in him.

Lent is a time to practice humility – not to think less of ourselves, but to think of ourselves less. This lends us to be open to the grace that God has in store for us at Easter.

We want to skip right over Good Friday. Don’t we? We don’t want to deal with the death that is in life, that’s all around us. We want to sanitize it and clean it and wash our hands of the pain of death, of the fear of death, of the concern over dying. But dying is a part of life. It’s part of who we are, part of our experience, and it’s part of our relationship with God – that God came into the world to enter into this life, including dying himself.

And so, we have nothing to fear in life, and we have nothing to fear in death, and this should give us hope. Easter is about is focusing on hope, not wishful thinking. Wishful thinking says, “Gosh, I hope I win the lottery this week, or I hope my team wins the tournament coming up, or I hope my hair would grow back or the rain.”

That’s wishful thinking. That’s not Christian hope. Our hope is a certainty, a confidence –  hope and confidence not in ourselves and what we can do, but in God and what God has done and is continuing to do. God is drawing all things towards God like that magnet.

Death is not the end. The end and the hope and the purpose for all of life is resurrection to new life. That’s who we are – a people on hope, a people of resurrection. And if we can focus on that, instead of the badness, of our own sinfulness, if we can focus on grace and resurrection and seeking to see it and our life, then we will see it and experience it. We will begin to trust more, see grace more, be more accepting of others and live lives of hope.

We’re called to be a resurrection people. That’s what Easter is all about and that’s my call to you in this season of Easter.

Richard Rohr says it really well. He said, “God appears to be resurrecting everything all the time. It’s nothing to believe in as much as it is something to observe and be taught.”

In this season of Easter, my friends, look about you and see the good things that are coming to life all around.

Let me end with a prayer. It comes out of our prayer book in the service for ordinations.

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light, look favorably on your whole church, that wonderful and sacred ministry. By the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility, the plan of salvation. Let the whole world see and know that things which are cast down are being raised up and things which had grown old are being made new and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through all things were made, your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit. One God, forever and ever. Amen.

Happy Easter.


Hola, Michigan Occidental. Espero que estén bien.

Nos estamos acercando al final de nuestro peregrinaje cuaresmal, llegando a la Pascua, y quería compartir algunos pensamientos con ustedes para ayudarles a celebrar este tiempo especial del año para nosotros.

La Cuaresma, como saben, es un tiempo de disciplina – un tiempo de ayuno y oración, un tiempo para la introspección y la reflexión y, sobre todo, a un tiempo para arrepentirnos, dar la vuelta, cambiar de dirección, y volvernos hacia Dios en vez de alejarnos de Él. Es un tiempo para intentar crear una disciplina de oración, estudio, y reflexión que nos ayude a centrarnos en Dios, de modo que cuando la Pascua llegue, podamos experimentar la alegría de la vida nueva.

Algunas personas dicen que hay una razón para todo – cuando pasan cosas malas. Cuando ocurren huracanes o inundaciones. Cuando tenemos terribles crímenes y tiroteos masivos, como los que seguimos viendo.

Decimos, “Bueno, eso era solamente parte del plan de Dios”.

Decimos eso porque realmente no sabemos qué decir. Decimos eso porque queremos tener algún sentido de control sobre lo que ha pasado. Decimos ese tipo de cosas porque queremos creer que podemos entender las cosas que han pasado en el mundo, cuando realmente no podemos entenderlas.

Pero a medida que entendemos la Pascua, entendemos que, de hecho, hay una razón para todo. Y esa razón es la resurrección.

Algunos quieren creer que Dios es como un titiritero controlando nuestras vidas, como si fuéramos marionetas, haciendo que las cosas pasen para que regresemos a Él porque somos personas malas y pecadoras – y bien podemos serlo. Pero eso es más bien pensar en nosotros que en Dios.

Para mí, la providencia de Dios es hermosamente evidente en el tiempo de Pascua -en la historia de la resurrección, en la que Dios toma una cosa terrible -la muerte de su Hijo- y crea algo bueno a partir de ella. Y ese bien es la resurrección.

Dios es como un imán, atrayéndonos hacia Dios – sacando lo malo de nosotros y atrayéndonos hacia su bondad.

La Cuaresma es un tiempo para practicar la humildad – no para menospreciarnos, sino para pensar menos en nosotros. Esto nos permite estar abiertos a lo que la gracia de Dios tiene preparado para nosotros en Pascua.

Queremos saltarnos el Viernes Santo, ¿no es verdad? No queremos lidiar con la muerte que hay en la vida que nos rodea. Queremos desinfectarla y limpiarla y lavarnos las manos del dolor de la muerte, del temor a la muerte, de la preocupación sobre la muerte. Pero morir es parte de la vida. Es parte de quien somos, parte de nuestra experiencia, y es parte de nuestra relación con Dios, un Dios que vino al vino para asumir completamente esta vida, incluyendo su propia muerte.

De modo que no tenemos nada que temer en la vida, y no tenemos nada que temer en la muerte. La Pascua se trata de enfocarnos en la esperanza, no en los buenos augurios. El buen augurio dice, “Ay, espero que me saque la lotería o, espero que mi equipo gane el próximo torneo o, espero que mi cabello crezca de nuevo o, espero que llueva”.

Eso es un buen augurio. Pero no es esperanza cristiana. Nuestra esperanza es ciertamente una confianza- esperanza y confianza no en nosotros mismos y en lo que podemos hacer, sino en Dios y en lo que Dios ha hecho y continúa haciendo. Dios está atrayendo todas las cosas hacia sí mismo, como el imán.

La muerte no es el final. El sentido, la esperanza y el propósito para toda vida es la resurrección a una nueva vida. Eso es lo que somos – un pueblo de esperanza, un pueblo de resurrección. Y si nos enfocamos en eso, en vez de en nuestra maldad y nuestro pecado, si podemos enfocarnos en la gracia y la resurrección y buscamos encontrarla en nuestras vidas, entonces la veremos y experimentaremos. Empezaremos a confiar más, a ver más la gracia, a aceptar más a otros y a vivir vidas de esperanza.

Estamos llamados a ser un pueblo de resurrección. De eso se trata la Pascua y a eso les invito en este tiempo de Pascua.

Richard Rohr lo dice muy bien. Él dijo “Vemos a Dios resucitando todas las cosas todo el tiempo. No se trata tanto de creer como de ver y ser enseñados.”

En este tiempo de Pascua, mis amigos, mírense ustedes mismos y vean todas las cosas que están tomando nueva vida alrededor de ustedes.

Déjenme terminar con una oración. Está en el Libro de Oración Común, en el servicio para las ordenaciones.

Dios de poder inmutable y luz eterna: Mira con favor a toda tu Iglesia, ese maravilloso y sagrado misterio; por la operación eficaz de tu providencia lleva a cabo en tranquilidad el plan de salvación; haz que todo el mundo vea y sepa que las cosas que han sido derribadas son levantadas, las cosas que han envejecido son renovadas, y que todas las cosas están siendo llevadas a su perfección, mediante aquél por quien fueron hechas, tu Hijo Jesucristo nuestro Señor; que vive y reina contigo, en la unidad del Espíritu Santo, un solo Dios, por los siglos de los siglos. Amén.

Feliz Pascua.