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KANSAS: Episcopal Bishop Makes Reunion Overtures to Diocese of Western Kansas

KANSAS: Episcopal Bishop Makes Reunion Overtures to Diocese of Western Kansas

By David W. Virtue
August 16, 2010

The Bishop of Kansas, the Rt. Rev. Dean E. Wolfe has written a letter to the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Western Kansas calling for a reunion of the two dioceses.

"We have a unique opportunity, in this brief moment, to engage in a crucial conversation and it is an opportunity which may not present itself again for many years. I believe if our two great dioceses were to join forces it would create an atmosphere of holy excitement and renewed hope throughout our state." (See full letter below.)

Both dioceses face serious financial shortfalls.

The Diocese of Western Kansas will elect a new bishop on August 21. The three nominees for bishop announced on Aug. 3 are the Rev. Michael Pierce Milliken, 63, rector of Grace Church, Hutchinson, in the Diocese of Western Kansas; the Rev. Robert Allen Rodgers, 65, deployment officer in the Diocese of Eau Claire and vicar of two mission congregations, St. Albans' Church in Spooner and St. Luke's Church in Springbrook, WI; and the Rev. Bryce Dennis Zimmerman, 58, rector, of St. Cornelius Church, Dodge City, in the Diocese of Western Kansas.

The three priests were selected last month from a pool of several candidates, said the Rev. Laird McGregor, vicar of St. Anne's Church in McPherson and a member of the diocesan Standing Committee.

The person elected will succeed the Rt. Rev. James M. Adams, the fourth bishop of the diocese, who resigned earlier this year to become vicar of Shepherd of the Hills Episcopal Church in Lecanto in the Diocese of Central Florida.

Bishop Adams resigned in October 2009 and wrote that the Domestic Missionary Partnership of $55,000 (from the National Church), begun four years ago had changed and was no longer supporting the diocese's base budget, only ministries. It left the diocese financially vulnerable, he said.

In a Pastoral Letter to the diocese he wrote, "As most of you know, our recent Diocesan Convention revealed the Diocese's weaknesses as it has struggled to be a Diocese. Assessment rates, which have hampered ministries in local congregations, was no surprise to this Convention, and the expenses of a full time Diocesan Bishop and his office have led to the realization that Western Kansas needs to decide how best to continue Christ's ministry as The Episcopal Church in two thirds of the State of Kansas. Unfortunately, for all the options to be considered, a sitting Diocesan Bishop would not be helpful, neither to the process nor to the ongoing fiscal responsibilities of the Diocese."

The Diocese of Western Kansas encompasses the western two-thirds of the state of Kansas and represents about 2,100 parishioners in 28 congregations. The diocese was a missionary district from 1901 until 1973, when it achieved full diocesan status.

Western Kansas has an Average Sunday Attendance of less than 800.

The Diocese of Kansas claims an Average Sunday Attendance of about 4,000.


KANSAS: An Open Letter to the Ecclesiastical Authority and to the People of The Episcopal Diocese of Western

By Bishop Dean E. Wolfe
May 11, 2010

Dear Friends,

Grace to you and peace, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. In the interest of complete transparency, and for the sake of Christ and the mission of the Episcopal Church, I am writing you a most unusual letter.

I am writing to ask if you would prayerful consider embarking on a process with the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas which could lead to our two dioceses becoming one.

I realize there are people in your diocese, as there are people in my own diocese, who think such an idea is too difficult and too fraught with complexity to consider. I also realize that you have already begun the process leading to the search for a new bishop and, some say, that search is fairly far along.

But I am a bishop who believes in the amazing power of the Holy Spirit and I believe Christ is always calling us to be one. We have a unique opportunity, in this brief moment, to engage in a crucial conversation and it is an opportunity which may not present itself again for many years. I believe if our two great dioceses were to join forces it would create an atmosphere of holy excitement and renewed hope throughout our state.

A synergy would be created, making the sum of the whole greater than the sum of the two individual parts. There are many possibilities inherent in such a plan, but here are just a few of them:

* We could offer a greater range of services to the parishes of a combined diocese.
* We could make extensive use of new technologies to meet via telephone and internet.
* We could engage in a more comprehensive evangelism strategy for the state of Kansas as a whole.
* We could raise the profile of the Episcopal Church throughout the state of Kansas.
* We could work to increase attendance in the youth summer camping program which we currently share.
* We could extend campus ministries programs to all the community colleges in Kansas.
* We could increase our abilities to communicate with our membership through the internet newsletter, which we currently share, and through a combined diocesan newsletter.
* We could offer higher quality education programs for lay leaders and candidates for the deaconate and the priesthood.
* We could more ably assist parishes in the search for a new rector or vicar and we could more ably assist clergy in the search for a new parish.

In fact, there are so many reasons for our two dioceses to come together that the burden of proof should be with those who argue our two dioceses should remain separated. Most church organizations are constantly looking for creative ways to reduce overhead and administrative costs while increasing effective mission and ministry.

This proposal would do both. To our north, the Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska, with 8,235 members, is one diocese. To the south, Oklahoma with 16,141 members is one diocese. To the east of our state, there are two dioceses in Missouri ... but the Diocese of West Missouri has 11,518members and the Diocese of Missouri has 13,485 members. Colorado, divided by the vast Rocky Mountain range, is one diocese with 28,300 members.

If you add together the membership of the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas and the Episcopal Diocese of Western Kansas, we would be a diocese of 13,781 members (11, 668 +2,113). Is our state so polarized between east and west that we cannot work collaboratively to bring the Christian faith through the Episcopal tradition to every Kansan? (By the way, these numbers come from the Episcopal Church's research website, "Active Baptized A1embers and Average Sunday Attendance Totals for the Episcopal Church by Province and Diocese, 2007-2008) I hope it is clear to everyone that there are no ulterior motives in such a proposal. I do not write this letter for myself and, indeed, I am well aware of the additional hardships this endeavor may create.

But I fear that if I do not make this proposal now, I will not have kept my vows to "guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church." The Episcopal Diocese of Kansas is a self-sustaining diocese with strong lay and ordained leadership, a modest endowment, and ambitious plans for the future. The clergy of our diocese currently are, as much as the clergy in any diocese can be, of a common mind and a generous spirit. As bishop, it has been my goal to lead from the broad center which, I always try to explain, is not a political designation but rather a theological understanding; that Christ is at the center of everything and our goal must always be to grow closer to Christ.

There is room for great theological diversity in any conversation we might have and a larger church in a large state requires a large space for a wide variety of faithful, passionate Christians to exercise their ministries. We believe the Episcopal Diocese of Western Kansas has much to offer us as well. .. and it has much in common with the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas; strong lay and clerical leadership, a faithful and enduring pioneer spirit, and the sustaining desire to know Christ and to make Christ known.

I am well aware that the Diocese of Western Kansas was created, in part, because of decisions made by my predecessors in this office who chose for Western Kansas to be a Missionary Province rather than undertake the great effort required to establish the Episcopal Church over an entire state. In my opinion it is more the result of human sin than any other reason ... that our two dioceses are not now united; sins of pride, indifference, selfishness, greed, and a lack of faith, otherwise known as fear. If this proposal is not accepted, I will be, as the apostle Paul once described himself, "cast down, but not destroyed."

Our two dioceses will continue to work side by side and I trust we will find more and more ways to work together. Many of the possibilities I have mentioned can be accomplished even if our two dioceses do not unite. I propose that we establish a working group with four to six members from each diocese to examine ways in which we might work more closely together ... and to seriously consider the possibility of become one diocese with all the advantages such a union would create. I propose that this group begin meeting as soon as possible so that their findings can be presented to each diocese before a search process is fully initiated for a new bishop in Western Kansas.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, the future is upon us. We do not need an expert from somewhere else to tell us that there will be fewer dioceses in the future. We can already see we will be doing much more collaborative ministry with the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and the Presbyterian Church ... just to name a few. What a shame it would be if we could covenant with so many other ecumenical players and be unable to work more closely among ourselves. I hope you will feel free to contact me in person if you have any further questions.

The Right Reverend Dean E. Wolfe, D.D.
Ninth Bishop
The Episcopal Diocese of Kansas
835 S. W. Polk Street
Topeka, Kansas 66612

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