2017 Diocese of South Dakota Convention Address

By the Rt. Rev. John T. Tarrant

I begin by thanking the Diocesan staff, clergy and laity for your faithful witness to the world of God’s love through your faith in Christ Jesus. Thank you! We live in a troubled world that needs signs of hope. Thank you for being that beacon in the dark times and in the times of joy. 

Now I will report on changes and other general happenings in the diocese, and then offer some reflections.

Some diocesan staff shifts: 

The Rev. Portia Corbin has moved to Lead in order to be closer to Thunderhead Camp as our camp ministry continues to thrive. I have named her Missioner for Camping and Retreat Ministries. She will serve as rector of Christ Church Lead, TEC camp director, the Diocesan staff contact person for Camp Remington, and she will continue to support youth ministry around the diocese. Marlys will continue to arrange reservations for those who wish to use Camp Remington, but other questions or concerns with both camps should begin with Portia.

Chris Corbin will continue his work with Niobrara School for Ministry and our faith formation programs as well as taking on the duties for transition ministry and ecumenical relations. He will also be the contact person for health insurance and clergy and lay pensions. Chris serves as the custodian of the diocesan website.

Pat LeBeau will continue to serve the diocese as property manager. All property related questions or concerns should begin with him.

Archdeacon Paul Sneve will continue to serve as vicar of St. Paul’s Vermillion and he will also continue his work with the Niobrara School for Ministry and anti-racism training. However, we are freeing up some of Paul’s time with the diocese for the balance of 2017 so that he can support the Cathedral in their development of the Tiospaye Wakan faith community and help as needed with ministry at Calvary Cathedral during this transition time for them as they explore long-term ministerial needs. 

The Rev. Tim Fountain continues his work with the Holy Apostles Sudanese congregation as well as working with Trinity Watertown during this time of transition in that faith community. Tim is also the custodian of the diocesan Facebook page. Send information or pictures you would like to have posted on the Diocesan Facebook page to Tim.

Canon David Hussey will be retiring at the end of October, but he will take on the part-time role of interim Superintending Presbyter of the Mni Sose Cluster as well as serving St. Peter’s in Ft. Pierre. 

Randy Barnhardt continues to be responsible for the financial affairs of the Diocese. He comes to Pierre, for a day and a half each week, usually Tuesday afternoon through Wednesday afternoon. Although this can vary based on other needs.

The Diocesan Council has approved the formation of an Audit Committee, consisting of two to four teams located in different deaneries or regions of the diocese.  These teams will be available to review the financial books of congregations. This will enable us to meet the canonical requirements for annual audits without the financial burden of hiring an accountant. Procedures and guidelines have been established that will simplify the audit process. Some travel is required but the church, which is being audited, will cover those expenses.  

If you know of individuals who have some knowledge of working with numbers and would be interested in serving on this committee, please have them contact the diocesan office for a conversation with me. Training will be provided.

Marlys is the initial contact person for most Diocesan business. She will direct you to the person that can address your particular diocesan need. She is the person to whom you send your information for the Church News, which is published four times a year. She is also able to answer many of the questions you may have.  

Some odds and ends:

We continue to make our website more user friendly; feedback to Chris Corbin is welcome. We are encouraging you to use it for information you may need and registration for events like, Summer Camp, Niobrara School for Ministry classes and even Convention.  

The Diocese will begin to use G Suites through Google this fall. Most staff members will be changing their email address beginning in October. We will continue to maintain the Midco email through November. The new directory contains both email addresses. G Suites will also give us the capability to offer video conferencing, which should enable some to join in on meetings when they can’t travel to get to the specific location. Some training session will be made available through this medium as well. Look forward to more information in the days and weeks to come on ways this technology will advance our ministry in South Dakota.

At last year’s convention we passed a resolution to form a committee to address and mediate bullying in the church. The committee members are: Mikayla Dunfee, Steve Albrecht, Michael & Julie LaFontaine, Julie & Les Gonsor, Linda Simon, Nancy LeBeau, Paul Sneve and myself. A survey has been developed, which is included in your packets. Additional copies are available for you to take home to your congregations. You can also take the survey online on our website. We hope to have the results back by the end of 2017 and then formulate strategies for addressing the issues involved.

Niobrara School for Ministry: Over the last eighteen months, the Diocese has been working to evaluate and re-structure both the ordination process and the local ministerial education and formation offered through the Niobrara School for Ministry. There have been multiple occasions where concerns about the process in general or specific changes made have been voiced. 

We will be holding a forum on Saturday, October 28, from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm at Trinity Church in Pierre to discuss both the ordination process and our local training program through the Niobrara School for Ministry. This will be open to anyone in the Diocese who has constructive input to offer. We hope to both critique and look at changes that can be made to our program, which is intended to train and equip both lay leadership and prepare those called for local ordination. Many dioceses around the church are going through the same challenges as we seek to provide well-trained clergy and lay leadership for small congregations. Lunch will be provided. Please, call the office if you will be attending.

Note: Diocesan Convention 2018 will be held at the United Methodist Church in Pierre.


Our Catechism teaches, “the mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” We are to pursue this mission as we pray and worship; proclaim the Gospel and promote justice, peace and love.

Let me speak a bit about this reconciling presence in the world.

First a story:

The year Tommy turned seven he had spent the whole fall scouring the ditches of the country roads around his home looking for returnable pop bottles.  He could get two cents for each one he redeemed.  Tommy would go out on his quest each afternoon following school.  On Saturday mornings he would have his parents drop him off in town while they went shopping.  Saturday mornings were usually good for fifteen to twenty bottles.  He searched tirelessly, but he didn’t mind because he was saving his money to buy his mother a Christmas present.  
When he had been with her in the flower shop during early summer she had commented on how beautiful a blown glass angel was that they saw in a display cabinet.  It cost $25.00 and Tommy thought to himself that if he worked hard he could save enough to buy it for his mom by Christmas.  This would be a special gift, because his mom would often refer to him as “her little angel.”  So, he started saving.  He saved his birthday money, he saved his allowance and he spent his spare time picking up pop bottles.  

Finally on the Friday before Christmas he had enough money and so he asked his dad if he would take him to town to buy a gift for his mom.  Tommy’s dad was surprised when he took $25.00 out of his pocket to pay for the angel.  He asked him if he was sure he wanted to spend all of his money on just one gift.  His dad told him that there were many other nice things that his mother would like that cost much less, but Tommy was determined. 

He gave the clerk his money; who then carefully wrapped the glass angel in tissue paper and put it in a bag for Tommy to take home.  Tommy could hardly wait until Christmas morning to see the look on his mother’s face when he gave her the beautiful glass angel.

Christmas Day arrived.  Tommy, his parents and his brothers and sisters gathered around the Christmas tree.  The gifts were given out one at a time.  The children were excited as they opened each one.   

After all of the presents were opened, Tommy’s brother and sisters gave their mom the gifts they had made for her at school.  As she opened them Tommy slipped into his bedroom, got the bag, unwrapped the angel from its protective tissue paper and carefully walked to where his mother was sitting next to the Christmas tree.

He had dreamed of this day for months.  He had envisioned the look on his mother’s face.  When he got to the door of the living room she ask him, “what do you have there Tommy?”  The adrenaline shot through his body.  He ran toward his mother and as he stepped on a piece of discarded wrapping paper his feet slipped out from under him.  The angel went flying in the air as Tommy fell to the floor.  After what seem like eternity, there was a crash and pieces of the glass angel went sailing across the living room floor. 

Tommy just sat on the floor with a look of shock and horror on his face.  Tears welled up in his eyes as he started to cry.   His mother said, “Oh, don’t cry Tommy, it doesn’t matter.”  Upon hearing those words, he totally broke down.  Tommy’s dad walked over to him, picked him up in his arms and said, “Tommy, I know how important it was to give your mom that angel.  Together let’s pick up the pieces.”   And with tears in their eyes Tommy and his dad began to pick up the pieces of the broken angel.

As we enter into our broken world the temptations are to act as if it is not broken or to simply kick the pieces around, or for some, to try and fix it all. But the hope of the Gospel is that brokenness is not all there is…. and often we are called only to help pick the up pieces.
We cannot be a reconciling presence in the world if we do not enter into the brokenness of the world. “God so loved the world” that in the Incarnation, the person of Jesus, God entered into our brokenness that we might be put back together, healed, if not in this age, in the age to come.

Our brokenness has many forms. 

This past August in Charlottesville, Virginia we were reminded that racism in America is part of the disease (brokenness) that plagues our Nation. I know it is uncomfortable to talk about, but let’s not deceive ourselves and pretend racism does not exist. 

Listen to the pain that arbitrary discrimination based on skin color causes to those of African decent, Hispanic decent or the original occupiers of this continent, Native Americans. Those of Asian and Middle Eastern decent also get caught up in this prejudice. It is through their stories that we begin to understand the broken nature of a culture that measures a person’s worth or humanity by the color of their skin. Listen to their stories.

Listen to the stories of immigrants who are often judged on how well they speak English or their ethnic accent when they do speak it. How quick are we to judge a telemarketer when they have an accent from a non-English speaking country? How much quicker do I hang-up?
Listen to the stories of LBGT individuals as they speak of discrimination and at times violence toward them in some segments of our society. 

Listen to the poor as they struggle to meet daily needs. Listen without judgment; listen without advice.

Listen to our veterans; especially those who served in Viet Nam and returned to an ungrateful country that often blamed them for the mistakes of our Nation’s leaders. Also, listen to those returning now from wars fought in Afghanistan and Iraq who many times will not speak of their experiences and the horrors they witnessed. Listen not just to what they may say, but listen to what they do not say as well. 

There is plenty of brokenness to go around, so listen. Listen to the mother and father whose hopes are broken through a miscarriage. Listen to the loved one, friend or maybe stranger who receives a diagnose that confronts them with their mortality.  Listen to the dreams lost as another young person dies of suicide or an automobile accident.

The brokenness of our world is pronounced. Touch it gently, but touch it. Help those in the midst of brokenness to pick up the pieces the best they can; knowing that often times this brokenness has been forced upon them by circumstances beyond their control.

Each summer at Thunderhead Episcopal Camp our counselors gather those who come and they listen to their stories. Some of the camper’s stories that are heard are harsh, but these counselors listen and they help, at least some, to return to a memory of a time before the angel was broken. They remind our young campers that there is more to their story than any one moment in time and that God’s love can help us put even the most broken pieces together again.

Hopes matter, dreams matter, our feelings and our lives matter.  The story of the incarnation; the coming of God into the world in the person of Jesus is God’s message to us that we matter.  God loves us enough to enter into our hopes and dreams and help us live our lives more fully.  God loves us enough to enter into our brokenness and help us pick up the pieces.   

Do we love God enough to enter into to this sinful and broken world and help others pick up the pieces of their broken lives, so that we all might again live the time before the angel was broken? That is our mission; that is our charge…