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.

Bishop Hougland’s 2018 Christmas Message

Pastoral Letter 2019

To the People of the Diocese of Western Michigan,

As we make final preparations for the 144th Diocesan Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Michigan, I request your fervent prayers for our diocese, for the communities we serve, and for our nation. We need God’s help – and your support – to expand and energize our work of healing and reconciliation to address the growing divisions in our American life.

A little less than 3 days after the gavel closes on our 144th Diocesan Convention, America’s polls will open for the 2018 midterm election. When the polls finally close, Americans could end up more bitterly divided than we are already. No matter who “wins” all of us might end up losing.

I am concerned about thisgrowing chasm of distrust and fear amongst us and the increasing hostility being expressed towards entire segments of our varied communities. This distrust and fear is the opposite of the spirit of reconciliation embodied in the work of the Episcopal Church. As Episcopalians, our mission is, “to restore all people to unity with God and each other, as we pray and worship, proclaim the Gospel, and promote justice, peace and love.” (BCP p. 855)

The challenges facing the Jesus Movement in Western Michigan are enormous and among the most urgentis the need for racial reconciliation.

This is also an area where we are well positioned to take important new steps toward effective action.In 2017, our Diocesan Convention passed a resolution calling for the development of a policy and procedure requiring that, “persons running for any elected diocesan position must have completed an approved course of study on racial reconciliation.” Our Diocesan Commission on Dismantling Racism has done great work. Working in conjunction with your bishop, they have developed a policy and procedure that was passed unanimously by your diocesan council at its September 2018 meeting.

Regardless of who you are – your background or your beliefs – we are all shaped by systems, including within the Church, in which attitudes, social practices, and power dynamics intentionally and unintentionally create unfair advantages or disadvantages for groups of people based on race.

Simply put, racism is prejudice coupled with power. Racism in all its varietiesexists to help those holding power and control to maintain power and control.

It is only when we see and recognize the overarching role of racism as a systemthat we can begin to examine its consequences and seek ways to change. Our sincere engagement in dismantling racism is a necessary step toward making visible God’s likeness and goodness in every person.

As your Bishop, I now call upon us to take up our mission – to seek restoration and unity by fully giving ourselves to the work of dismantling racism in our lives.

The new policy and procedure for Dismantling Racism in the Episcopal Diocese of Western Michigan outlines a course of study on racism awareness and reconciliation.

Phase One – Understanding the history of racism: US origins of racism, institutional racism, awareness of personal bias.
Phase Two – Committing to intentional personal and public change.
Phase Three – Creating a parish plan and determining outcomes to be measured and follow-up activities to maintain momentum.

This will not be easy work. It will require humility, vulnerability, honesty and courage. It will take graceful listening with gentle responses. It will require patience and prayer, lots of prayer, as we seek to shift our awareness and our actions, so we might become agents of healing and reconciliation in our communities and in our time.

I look forward to taking up this work with you and moving deeper into our relationship with God as we move deeper intorelationship with one another.

I am honored to be your bishop.

May the blessing of God Almighty be with us now and always,

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

Click here to download this letter as a PDF.
Click here to download the new Policy and Proceedure for Dismantling Racism Training.

Plainsong Farm

By Polly Hewitt

On August 4, almost 50 people – some traveling from as far as Flint and Detroit — gathered at Plainsong Farm in Rockford to hand-harvest heirloom wheat that was planted last September. The quarter-acre of wheat was cut with sickles, bundled, threshed and winnowed, using mostly manual labor. The harvest event combined prayer, Scripture, learning, live music, field work, spiritual reflection and ended with a farm-fresh meal. The night before the harvest, 20 people from across the state, met at St. Mark’s Church for a special workshop where they learned about wheat and flour, made communion bread and shared Holy Eucharist.

One of the participants summed up the entire experience by calling it “sacramental,” and saying, “By the end of the harvest, we had built a community.” The group included people from three denominations, all three lower Michigan Episcopal dioceses and every generation.

Plainsong Farm’s Turkey Red heirloom wheat will be stone milled and blended with other organically-grown Michigan heirloom wheat. Shares of the harvest are now available for baking healthy and flavorful communion bread.

The entire Plainsong wheat planting and harvest program was under the supervision of The Rev. Elizabeth DeRuff of St. Honore Farm & Mill in California, which is partnering with Plainsong Farm in a national movement to care for Creation by conserving water and other resources, improving soil health and reducing greenhouse gases. The goal of the Honore Growers Guild is to enable every altar to sustainably and intentionally source their communion bread or wafers. Western and Eastern Michigan are two of the five Episcopal dioceses currently participating in the Guild, up from just one three years ago.

If you missed the Harvest Weekend, consider joining the next Wheat Planting Day on Saturday, September 29. You can register online here. If you can’t come, learn more on Facebook or Instagram, where there are many photos from the weekend’s activities.

And that is Church

By Alicia Hagar

As the hand-wringing about the decline of the Episcopal Church continues in so many quarters of our beloved Communion, Episcopalians in my small neck of the woods have been learning that church can be a very different thing.

If we are willing to be brave, if we are willing to be vulnerable, if we are willing to throw ourselves into something that doesn’t involve a guarantee, we will find that whether or not the church is declining, the more important truth is that the church is changing and that changing in the church may yet be our very salvation.

We have a thriving Latino ministry at my home parish, and we call that ministry El Corazón, or, “The Heart.” The name is intentional. We did not want to have a Spanish worshiping community at the edges of who we are as a church. Rather, we wished to place them at our very core, our very heart, at Nuestro corazón.

We started about two years ago, with a demographic study using resources from the Greater Ottawa County United Way, along with detailed breakdown analysis from MissionInsite, a demographics analysis organization that partners with The Episcopal Church. Through our study, we found that there were over a thousand Latinos within a 15-mile radius of the church. We looked at what other churches in the area were offering and realized that the only offering came from a Catholic church holding a seasonal Spanish mass for the summer migrant workers.

The demographic data also helped us realize the extent of the segregation in our area. One report found that this part of West Michigan is the 20th most segregated area in the entire country. In our small town, the Latino population, as a percentage, is quite low within the city of Grand Haven, but then doubles when you look five miles out of the city center, triples another five miles out, and increases by tenfold at twenty miles out.

We sensed a calling. We sensed that perhaps by creating a year-round worshiping community in Spanish (though we expected it would not likely become a massively large group) we might begin to break down those walls of segregation. It might encourage more diverse families to live nearby. It might make our area more diverse, more reflective of the richness of God’s creation. We knew that would be a long-term goal, one that wouldn’t produce immediate fruit but the work called to us.

Our priest – my brother – spent many years becoming fluent in Spanish, including spending a few weeks completing an immersion experience in the Dominican Republic. He came back to Michigan with a heart on fire for Latino ministry, and in his wake came Deacon John Infante.

John – originally from Bogota, Columbia – met my brother during his time in the Dominican. It just worked out, the spirit breathed, that John would come to us. And, once he was here, John spent every waking minute pounding the pavement of our small town, Grand Haven. He stopped and spoke with any person who looked like they might speak Spanish. John had a message for them: there was a place for them at St. John’s, a place where they could worship in their native tongue every Sunday.

Together with our rector and many other parishioners, our church built from nothing a community that had their own mass entirely in Spanish. Deacon John brought in Yolanda and Daisy, Ricardo and Susy, names that I now can’t imagine our church without. These two families became our starting group, our seed, nuestra semilla. As we added to the adult community, our Sunday School and Youth Group expanded in both body and spirit.

I spent months trying to talk with Deacon John, to Yolanda and Ricardo and Susy, and together, speaking our own stilted Spanglish, we would mime or act out our thoughts to each other. Our coming together has been constant practice in making room. Making room for people whose life experience is far different than ours. The preexisting, predominantly white members of our church worked with our Latino semilla, and together we built this community called El Corazón.

We worship together as a bilingual body several times a year. Initially sermons were delivered in English. After some time, we invested in a translation device, allowing our folks talented enough to simultaneously hear in English and speak in Spanish, to translate the sermons in real-time into the ears of our Latino members.

When we worship together, we hear readings in English and in Spanish (with translations of both in the bulletin).  When we receive communion it may be in Spanish or English, knowing that the meaning is the same. Our dedicated choir has just about mastered the service music we sing in Spanish.  

Through a grant from The Episcopal Church, we were identified as a Mission Enterprise Zone. This enabled us to call John as a permanent staff member. He sold everything he owned in Bogota and came to our sleepy town with his suitcases and a dream. John, a long-term transitional deacon, will be ordained to the Priesthood on October 28th, and plans to take over our third Sunday mass, ministering to the people that he raised up.

Don’t be misled into thinking this has been easy. It has not been. Many times our own whiteness, our inner prejudices and assumptions of how church should look and sound, have had to be addressed and sometimes those conversations have been painful. Even now the language barrier can at times be real and can lead to serious misunderstanding. But we are a church committed to being church and we are working to meet each other where we are, to hear each other, to accept our own responsibility when we have gone off track.

And there are steak and chicken tacos in the kitchen for sale, and a tamale fundraiser coming soon. And a Colombian man in a collar who walks everywhere, and a community that has just recently baptized one of their own.

That first December, two years ago, we offered a bilingual Christmas Eve service during which I sang a Spanish duet, a lullaby to the baby Jesus. As I looked at the Spanish service music for the first time, I was overwhelmed. So many words I didn’t know, so much I couldn’t translate, so much that was difficult to pronounce and with unfamiliar rhythms. Whole notes became half notes, 3 bar rests became four count rests; it was confounding.

My own confusion at suddenly being confronted with music I didn’t recognize, in a language that was foreign to me, is the same confusion that our Latino members experienced every time they walked into a predominantly white, mainline church. Music that didn’t sound the same, played with an organ and not a guitar, with words they could pretend to sing but didn’t understand… that wasn’t church and wasn’t community for them.

Church is a place where you come in the doors and see the faces of people light up because you are there. Church is a place where language doesn’t matter, because your personhood is so valued that small things like language stop dividing, where you figure it out, you will look it up, you will ask your iPhone to translate for you, so important is what you need to say or hear.

We are grateful that in the midst of our small, segregated West Michigan town, we can offer a place for all Latinos that long for a community that talks like they do, where they can sing the Agnus Dei in Spanish, where they can worship our Lord, in their own language.

On the Saturday of Grand Haven’s Coast Guard Festival we held a fundraiser for El Corazón. As I stood in the crowd and navigated the deep lines of people queued up for authentic Latino foods, a friend in an ironic “Border Patrol” hat offered me a beer. We talked and joked and I gazed out at the crowd of people in the midst of generosity of food, generosity of gifts, and generosity of spirit.

Maybe it wasn’t an altar rail; maybe it was beer and a large man with a mustache wearing an ironic hat. Maybe it’s a small man in a collar who has lived through oppressive government regimes in his native land to come here and build something new. Maybe it is Daisy in her skinny jeans or Reyna, so fierce in her devotion to our kids and her roots, or Gloria, who loves so deeply and prides herself on her food.

I know that I took communion that day from a red solo cup, surrounded by people who didn’t speak my language, whose life experience I cannot hope to understand. I was fed.

That is church.

I tried hard not to cry, as I stood about three feet from Juan a few weeks ago as he was asked in his own tongue if he accepted his call to baptism, “¿Quieres ser bautizado?”. Our St. John’s community came to stand around him as they all affirmed their own baptismal vows, “Así lo haré, con el auxilio de Dios.” It was a moving thing to see those rows empty as our folks followed their friend to the font, as we witnessed his immersion into the Holy Spirit.

That is church. Eso es iglesia.

The numbers in our Latino community may never grow very large in Grand Haven—segregation is a pernicious force and this is just a crack in the cultural walls long ago erected in our area. But as those walls crack through smiles, and laughter, through shared community, the broken Body of Christ becomes manifest in new ways.

And that is church.