September/October Message: 2016 Convention Address

By the Rt. Rev. John T. Tarrant

This Fall I’ll begin my eighth year as bishop of the Diocese of South Dakota. There have been several staff changes this year and into next. The Rev. Mikayla Dunfee joined the staff of mission clergy in June, thanks to a grant from the Diocese of Long Island. She is serving as curate on the Cheyenne River Mission with emphasis on children, youth and young adult ministry.


Through a grant from the General Convention budget we have hired Chris Corbin, part-time, to serve as Missioner for Leadership Development. He is helping us re-develop the ordination process and Niobrara School for Ministry as our training program. We have established a “discernment weekend” to be the entry point for anyone considering a call to ordination. This is similar to the Bishop’s Advisory Committee on Aspirants to the Ministry (BACAM), which many dioceses have used in the past and some are still using. All of those interested in exploring ordination will need to attend a discernment weekend. We will schedule one each year. Chris has also redesigned our website which will be launched shortly after convention.


Fr. Tim Fountain will begin a part-time position as Support Missioner. He will be the diocesan liaison with the Sudanese Congregation and offer hands on support as this congregation continues to develop at Holy Apostles’ Church in Sioux Falls. He will also be the Safeguarding God’s Children training coordinator, as well as being involved in several other projects, some ongoing, and some short term. Fr. Tim’s position will begin October 1, 2016.


Randy Barnhardt will retire at the end of March 2017. His position will be eliminated. We are creating three new part-time positions. I all ready mentioned Fr. Tim Fountain’s position.  Pat LeBeau will be hired as the Missioner for Property. He will deal with all questions or issues on property maintenance, repairs or improvements, property damages covered by insurance, and property surveys. He comes with a vast amount of experience in property management and maintenance. His position will begin January 1, 2017.


We will also be creating the part-time position of Financial Officer. Randy Barnhardt will be hired to fill this position. He will come to Pierre two days a week, using the Deloria Center as his “home base” literally, as we will convert the second bedroom into a living space. Barney will have a formal office in the office wing at Trinity Church. This area was set-aside for this purpose when we moved Diocesan offices to Pierre last summer.


We are moving from a full-time position to three part-time positions so we can take advantage of a broader skill set and use the talents of some of our “young” retirees.


Last year the Diocese purchased a Bishop’s Residence in Pierre. The purchase was made to make it easier to house the bishop in Pierre in the future, which has a small housing market. We initially received about $40,000.00 in gifts to offset the purchase. We have since received a few other gifts. The goal will be to pay off this debt within the next three to five years. The diocese is currently making payments toward it (almost $27,000 a year), but we are going to solicit gifts, so that we can pay back our endowment and free more funds for ministry. This strategy will not only lower the cost of the Episcopacy, but it will also increase our assets and enable the diocese to have more resources for our ongoing mission and ministry. Opportunities to support this effort will be forthcoming.


Six years ago we established a goal to provide a youth minister on each of the eight mission areas in the diocese. We raised funds and developed a prototype program for the Standing Rock Mission. We spent the next two-years working the prototype before the program was put on hold. This is what we learned: 1) there is a definite need and strong support for youth ministry on the missions; 2) there needs to be a structure beyond the mission structure to give the necessary programmatical and funding support; 3) there are already existing frameworks that are proven to be successful in the development, continuity and sustainability of effective youth ministry.


As a result of these learnings and with the financial support of a grant through the General Convention budget the Diocese of South Dakota is partnering with the Diocese of North Dakota and Young Life to establish two sights for youth ministry. We will hire a youth worker for Standing Rock Mission, South Dakota and a second mission yet to be determined.  We have the funding to establish two full-time positions for a three-year period. This will enable us to fully establish and raise money to maintain this ministry in the future. The Rev. John Floberg of North Dakota deserves much of the credit for our securing this funding.


A Resolution will be presented at the diocesan Convention in North Dakota October 14/15 to appoint a committee to seek areas of co-operation and collaboration with the Diocese of South Dakota and to explore the possibilities of the juncture of the two Dioceses making a report of their findings to the 2017 conventions. I will be attending their October convention in Bismarck. If this resolution passes I will be appointing representatives from South Dakota to join this committee with the approval of the Diocesan Council. This is an exciting opportunity for both dioceses to explore ways we can move deeper in our relationship with each other as we witness to God’s love for the world and the people we have been called to serve. This will be a formalization to the work begun about a year and a half ago. 


My sabbatical seems like a lifetime ago. Much of the work I did was in relationship building. I also reviewed and made recommendations for changes in our Constitution and Canons for our chancellor’s further review. The results of the changes in the Constitution have been brought before this convention. In all honesty, Steve did the hard work, but I would like to think I offered the motivation. Next year we hope to present revision of our canons or at least some of them.


Grace abounds!! Last Sunday the congregation at Grace Church Madison had a drawing for a raffle of a quilt made by a parishioner to raise money for the Madison ministerial fund to help those in need. They raised over $1,200.00 and turned it into an ecumenical effort reminding the community that we are one in Christ.


Three weeks ago Emmanuel Church in Rapid City held a ‘gumbo’ dinner and raised over $14,000 to help victims of the flooding in Louisiana. These are just two examples of congregations, small and large, in our diocese witnessing to God’s love for those in need through their selfless generosity. Both congregations see themselves as blessed and have found ways to be a blessing to others.


There is much angst in our world. The pointing a fingers and blaming others seems to be our first step to problem solving. In the public sphere we seem to have lost the ability for critical thinking that is not rude and accusatory. We have lost the ability to respectfully disagree.  And we justify this lack of civility by saying; we are just being honest and not being enslaved by “political correctness.” In fact, much of the public discourse is just plain rude, disrespectful and often dishonest. Much of the public discourse is counter to God’s will for those created in God’s image.


We need points of light in our world.


I have experienced one of those points of light. A few weeks ago I issued a letter of support for the pipeline protest going on in North Dakota by the people of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and others. I don’t offer these kinds of statements often, but I felt compelled to do so, on this issue. I received some affirmation for my statement. I also received a very critical letter from one of our diocesan church members who strongly disagreed with my statement and he told me why, in no uncertain terms.


At first I was taken back, but as I continued to read this thoughtful and respectful letter I began to hear his concern. His letter was written with such grace that by the end of it I felt honored. He did not agree with me, and I did not agree with him, but I knew that through our exchange I was experiencing something holy.


We don’t need to be rude; we don’t need to be disrespectful; and we don’t always even need to be right. God calls us to be faithful and faith filled. Jesus invited us to follow, to follow his example of humility, of love, and of sacrifice.


Through our baptism we have been invited into a new way of life. The old is dying and a new life is continually being born. The way we treat others is not about being politically correct, but it is about being baptized; about being followers of Jesus.


Our covenant with God through our baptism begins with a statement of belief: “I believe in….” and then it moves to how we will live out that belief.


We say:


We will continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers. We will support each other through our faith communities; we will experience the real presence, the healing and transforming power of Jesus through the Eucharist; and we will pray; pray for friend and enemy alike.


We promise that we will persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord. We are going to resist giving into the cynicism of the world. We are going to resist the idea that some how by tearing down other we are building the kingdom of God. And when we do fall, when we fail to live God’s dream we are going to own our failures and turn back to God’s desire for us and others.


We commit to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. Everything we say or do, whether at home, in the store, on Facebook or in some other forum, we are going to do with the understanding that it is to be a proclamation of God’s love for this sinful and broken world. There is enough judgment! God, through Jesus, has called us to proclaim forgiveness, mercy and hope. Leave the judgment to God.


We have agreed to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourself. All persons; means all persons. Not just those who agree with us, or look like us, or act like us, but everyone. We all have been created in the image of God, not just Episcopalians, or Americans or Christians, but we all have been created in the image of God. We agree to treat everyone as if they are Jesus himself.


And finally we pledge to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being.  ‘Among’, not ‘for’ all people. It is only when justice and peace (well-being) is among people that there is harmony in a society and genuine care and love can flourish. This striving begins by respecting the dignity of each person, of everyone. Do the letters you write, the posts you make, the words you speak respect the dignity of those you communicate to or about? I know they can, I received a communication like that two weeks ago.


You see to follow Jesus is to live into our baptismal covenant. Being faithful to this agreement will not happen through resolutions or legislation, but it happens as we surrender more and more of ourselves to the living God in Christ Jesus. As we empty ourselves and become filled by the very Spirit of God.


We are being called as individuals and as a Diocese to follow Jesus, to break open our hearts…. We are being call to pour out our lives on the altar of God, which is the world; so that we can be restored to newness of life as the Kingdom of God draws near.