by the Right Rev. John T. Tarrant
I hope you are having a blessed summer de- spite the heat and dry weather. The below is the 2017 mid-year report I sent to the Episco- pal Church Center. I send two reports each year along with Randy Barnhardt’s financial report to account for the Block Grant the Dio- cese of South Dakota receives from the Gen- eral Convention budget as partners in our ministry with and among Native Americans in South Dakota. These reports are shared with the Diocesan Council and in the future, I will have them put on the Diocesan website, so those who are interested have access to them.
The Diocese of South Dakota is comprised of 79 congregations; 54 are Native American congregations, most of which are located on one of nine reservations in our Diocese covering an area of well over 15,000 square miles. This includes one Native congregation in Minnesota, two in Nebraska and two urban Native congregations. Most of our other 25 congregations also have Lakota/Dakota mem- bers, which would increase the percentage and number of Episco- palians who are Native American. Twenty-nine of our church build- ings have no indoor plumbing. Most of those churches do have a “pretty good outhouse.”
In June of this year we held the 145th Niobrara Convocation at Christ Church, Red Shirt Table, Pine Ridge Mission. This is the summer gathering of Native American Episcopalians from the Da- kotas, and in recent years we have been joined by some of our sis- ters and brothers from Minnesota and Iowa. At this year’s Convoca- tion we were blessed to have with us our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. This was a wonderful reminder to the people that our ministry among Native Americans in North and South Dakota is a ministry of the whole Episcopal Church. The Presiding Bishop was not a guest, but a participant in this vital ministry that belongs to the whole church of which he is the leader.
As you know the Episcopal Church has had a long history in Indian work. The result of this work is that well over one half of the Episco- palians in the Diocese of South Dakota are Native American and Native ministry has shaped much of the life and work of the Dioces- es of North and South Dakota. Neither Diocese nor the larger church would be as vital and rich without our Native sisters and brothers in Christ. The church has been blessed to walk side by side with the peoples who occupied this land when the church first arrived on what is now known as the North American shores.
We continue to be understaffed in our eight mission fields, with some clergy being responsible for seven congregations or more. Our mission clergy are highly committed to live out the Gospel among an often-forgotten people. The church is present because of
this commitment that comes with a heavy personal cost. Our Mission clergy are far from the highest paid clergy in the church, but they are without exception some of the hardest working clergy in the church. The physical and emotional cost to them is high. Their sacrificial ministry cannot be captured well on YouTube, but it is very much embraced by the heart of God. I am continually in awe of the sacrifices they make for Jesus sake.
The Episcopal Church in South Dakota, thanks to grant received, is developing youth ministry on two of our mission areas and we hope to expand it to a third soon. We have also revamped our local minis- try training program, again thanks to a grant received through the wider church. These efforts will help us better address the issues of suicides, substance and physical abuse, school dropout rates, gang involvement and poverty, which many of our people face on a daily basis.
Our church camp program in the Black Hills continues to grow and flourish. Native and non-Native chil- dren and youth are brought together each year for a week of prayer, play, learning and living together in community. This helps break down the barriers that separate us and these camp weeks are a vivid reminder that as children of God we are more alike than different. We are all relatives of the one Holy and loving Creator. Our partnership with the Diocese of Wyoming in this camp experience has been a rich opportunity for both diocese.
Just a reminder:
None of the block grant money we receive is used to support the diocesan office or administrative structure, including bishop and staff. None of the block grant money is used to support buildings. All of it is used to support “on the ground” mission and ministry. The Diocese of South Dakota asks for 16% of disposable income from her congregations, including mission congregations, which along with en- dowment and miscellaneous income supports administrative expense as well as advancing our mis- sion priorities. The Diocese spends two to three hundred thousand dollars more each year on Native ministry than we receive from the Block Grant. We also help support a Sudanese congregation in Sioux Falls, South Dakota as well as advancing other ministry opportunities. You will see from our fi- nancial report that our staff is not over paid when compared to others in similar positions around the Episcopal Church in the U.S.
Almost one half of the Episcopalians in South Dakota live at or below the poverty level and yet their generosity is profound. Most of the Episcopalians in South Dakota would be considered powerless by world standards and yet their faith in the power of God is inspiring. The Diocese of South Dakota is grateful for the commitment of the Episcopal Church as we partner in this ministry. As we face the wealth disparity within our own church, I believe diocese like South Dakota are a reminder that we need to transform our own house, the Episcopal Church, as we work to transform the world. Christ is more visible among the poor and powerless. I know this to be true because I have witnessed it with my own eyes and I have been changed by the amazing people I serve with and among.
The General Convention budget support enables us to live God’s vision for the world more vividly. Without that support, we would not be able to continue the vital ministry that the Episcopal Church be- gan over 150 years ago in the Dakotas and the Kingdom of God would seem more distant to many of the least and the last in the mind of the world, but the most and the first in the heart of God. It really is that simple.