Episcopalians are “all about liturgy,” and I was delighted to discover that in Ketchikan, there is even a venerable liturgy to going to the airport in the morning. A departing traveler must first form a procession through the drive-through window at McDonald’s. While I do not recall learning about this in Seminary, I am willing to believe there is written somewhere an order for this rite, perhaps in the Book of Occasional Services
Having visited McDonald’s, taken the ferry to the airport, and boarded an Alaska Airlines 737 poorly camouflaged as Tinker Bell, I found myself winging my way to Seattle and on to Phoenix Arizona for my first House of Bishops Meeting.
I have never been to Phoenix. If asked my first impressions of this lovely “jewel” of the Southwest, I would say only that it is HOT. The buildings, on the other hand, are super cooled with air-conditioning. Which creates a sort of inverse Alaskan experience of going from one extreme to the other. In Phoenix there should be posted on the doors of buildings: “Caution: Contents May be Cold!”
I was very impressed with the ‘spirit’ of the House of Bishops. The best description I can offer is that the House of Bishops is seriously informal. Which is to say that while it is clear that the House of Bishops takes its work and mission with great seriousness–with integrity, prayer and respect, nevertheless, they do so with a disarming humility–with joy, camaraderie and, yes, even a good dose of humor.
I arrived in Phoenix with my suitcase packed with a wardrobe of insecurities, self-doubt, and not a few questions about my worthiness to be seated among such an “august group.” Thankfully, the warm welcome and down-to-earth manner of my fellow bishops soon had me feeling confident enough even to stand and speak on a point in the discussion of Immigration Reform.
Immigration Reform and ministry opportunities with Hispanic communities were a large part of our work and study over the week. The House received many excellent presentations and resources to assist the Church in welcoming and serving Hispanic members. Additionally, the House produced a Pastoral Letter speaking in support of Immigration Reform.
The work of the House of Bishops is forged in prayer. We began each day with devotions; every afternoon we celebrated the Eucharist; and we closed each day with some manner of evening prayer. For me, the experience of prayer and communion was the highlight of our time together.
I was especially moved by the experience of saying the Lord’s Prayer together. Although Episcopalians seem to value uniformity and proper order, when praying the Lord’s Prayer together as the House of Bishops, we were encouraged to offer the prayer in the words and format native to our hearts.
What? No uniformity?
The Book of Common Prayer invites us to pray The Lord’s Prayer “in the words our Savior Christ taught us.” However, it is often good to remember that Our Savior did not teach his disciples to say the Lord’s Prayer in either of the English versions printed in our prayer books. Moreover, we are wise to remember that the majority of Christians throughout the world were not taught the Lord’s Prayer in English.
The Episcopal Church is not a national church. It is international, with dioceses in Europe, South America, Central America, Taiwan, the Virgin Islands, and Haiti.
Listening to the many languages, versions, and phrasing of the Lord’s Prayer being offered together as we prayed, opened my heart to hear this prayer in unique and wonderful ways. I became aware of the fact that the sound of those many and varied voices, initially to my ear little more than a cacophony, were exactly what the prayers of the faithful must sound like to God’s ears.
To the one who is present to all voices calling out in faith, there is no preference of style, language, tone, or voice. God hears all distinctly.
I also found myself hearing single words out of the space created by our voices. Hallowed, Give, Bread, Forgive, Power, these words struck my ear like a church bell rings through the murmur of a busy village din. The result was deeply spiritual. I cannot recall a more “prayerful” experience of saying the Lord’s Prayer.
With one House of Bishops gathering under my belt, I returned to Alaska with a growing of understanding the work and ministry of a bishop in the Episcopal Church. It is a curious calling, the ministry of a bishop: on one hand the bishop is a diocesan figure, concerned with local needs within the boundaries of the See; on the other hand the bishop is a catholic figure, concerned with the needs of the whole church in every place.
The higher calling is to find the balance.