Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Via Dolorosa, Tour of the Dome of the Rock, Relationship, Back Home.

My sisters and brothers, I returned from the Anglican Communion Pilgrimage late yesterday. This pilgrimage and every pilgrimage has the real possibility of transformation and encountering the holy. I can share that once again, the impact was moving and deeply spiritual.  For this reason, I have made the pilgrimage an essential part of my Episcopacy. Thus, the reason for the first pilgrimage to all the churches during my first months in 2016. The naming of the diocesan magazine as “Camino - Our Road Together.” 

Pilgrimage is not only to the Holy Land, or on the Camino to Santiago in Spain. Pilgrimage can be in our Diocese or the walk with one another as a diocesan family of believers. The spiritual purpose of a pilgrimage is to somehow transcend our human knowing and experience God in new and unexpected ways. You are transformed spiritually and physically.  In much the same way, pilgrimage connects you with your fellow pilgrims; you laugh, pray, cry and help one another along the way.  

Pilgrims are different from tourists. I found the following, which is succinct and beautiful.  The difference between a tourist and a pilgrim is this, that the pilgrim seeks, while the tourist seeks a mirror. For the tourist, the location hardly matters. He could tour New York City or Calcutta, Paris or the Sahara. His name reveals his motive. A tourist is primarily concerned with his experience of the place — not the place itself. The pilgrim takes joy in the journey with the understanding that the journey only exists because of the destination. The destination lights the journey with joy. 

The pilgrim is interested in some thing at the end of the pilgrimage.  “Finding ourselves” by changing our location, experiencing new ideas and tasting foreign cultures is simply a bad replica of religious conversion. Becoming ourselves by real relation to something valued for its own existence — the pilgrim’s way — is worth dying for. Becoming ourselves by real relation to something valued for its own existence — the pilgrim’s way — is worth dying for.

This pilgrimage was new and revelatory.  I was connected to my sister and brother bishops (pilgrims) on a level that is lasting and sustaining. It was humbling to represent not only our Diocese but my pilgrimage also served the Episcopal Church. As I mentioned previously, this was not merely a visit to the Holy Land, this was a real pilgrimage in preparation for Lambeth 2020. The hours were long. We usually ate breakfast at 5:15 a.m., followed briefings and prayers at 6:00 a.m and then we were out the door by 6:30 a.m. We spent the majority of the day at Holy Sites, and when we returned, quick dinner and then briefings, prayers, and our day ended by 9:30 p.m. Did I mention the heat? A shower in the morning and in the evening was a respite and a blessing.

Each morning and evening, we reviewed our “word of the day” that connected with Lambeth 2020. The question was posed in the context of scripture. If we visited the Judean Desert, we read the scripture on the Temptation in the desert. We were challenged to probe the questions facing the Communion.  During these sessions, two Bishops gave a 20-minute overview of their Diocese, and it included the challenges and opportunities. I learned about each Diocese and Bishop.  It was surprising that some have long-standing perceptions of the Episcopal Church. I believe it may overlap with a global understanding of the United States. One Bishop was stunned when I discussed poverty in Philadelphia, the disparity in education, and childhood hunger statistics. They were well aware of the crime and drugs, but poverty seemed to strike a chord. 

Our focus on “Know Jesus, Change the World - Revolutionary” was met with great response.  The Lord set me on this pilgrimage for a reason - building relationships and learning how to strengthen our journey as Anglicans.  

In the last post, I discussed some of the sacred sites visited. I would like to share some of the previous three days. Three visits held great importance. They speak to the need of praying for peace in Jerusalem and peace in the world. I would like to express my gratitude to Archbishop Suheil Dawani, the Anglican Archbishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East. In over 50 years of ministry, he has built strong friendships and is respected by the leaders of various churches. As you know, we are developing a covenantal relationship with the Diocese of Jerusalem that will impact our Diocese and the Diocese of Jerusalem.  

Archbishop Dawani arranged a meeting the with Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III. He ranks fourth of the nine Patriarchs in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Theophilos III is also the head of the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre, and the religious leader of about 130,000 Eastern Orthodox Christians in the Holy Land. The Patriarchate traces its line of succession to the first Christian bishops of Jerusalem, the first being James the Just in the 1st century AD.

We were told we would only have 15 minutes with the Patriarch since an audience with him is rare. When we entered, I noticed his kindness. In our meeting, we witnessed his openness, laughter, graciousness, and generosity. Instead of 15 minutes, we spent over an hour with the Patriarch. He emphasized the importance of the Anglican Church and honored our Episcopal vows. 

Upon our departure, we were presented with a beautiful icon of the Theotokos. Theophilos is a wise leader with enormous responsibilities in the Holy Land. He asked that we share with our respective Dioceses the need for Christians to work with all people of faith. Work with one another in the Holy Land and throughout the world. He also asked that we pray for his Diocese, and I asked him to pray for ours. Let us hold the Diocese of Jerusalem in prayer. 

Archbishop Dawani also arranged a special tour I did not believe I would have the opportunity to experience. On Sunday, we were shuttled to the Muslim Quarter and informed we were to be the guests of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Muhammad Ahmad Hussein. He has  responsibility for all of the Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem. We were met by Archbishop Dawani and Shiekh Azam Elkhateeb at the Muslim entrance to the Temple Mount. After waiting for 20 minutes, were escorted by 7-8 members of security. 

After a brief introduction and welcome, we followed the Shiekh and were allowed access (which does not usually happen) to the Al Aqsa Mosque. The Al Aqsa Mosque is the third holiest site in Islam. The beauty of the interior and architecture are beyond description. We were entered quietly with head coverings and without shoes. While we were allowed to take pictures, we were asked not to share the images because of the holiness of the Mosque. 

After we left the Mosque, we were escorted across the Temple Mount and into the Dome of the Rock. I have always wanted to enter the Dome of the Rock, and this was a profoundly moving experience. Within the Dome of the Rock, one can feel the prayers. As I looked upon the rock, I understood deep within why they call this spot the navel of the earth. This is the site where God gathered the dust to create Adam and where Abraham nearly sacrificed his son Isaac to prove his faith. Among Muslims, the Temple Mount is called Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary). They believe it was here that the Prophet Muhammad ascended to the “Divine Presence” on the back of a winged horse—the Miraculous Night Journey. I am still processing this experience. 

On Saturday, we walked the Via Dolorosa, and each took turns carrying a wooden cross and reading scripture from the Stations. One of my favorite places, along with way is the Fifth Station. This is where St. Simon the Cyrene carried the cross for Jesus. The reason for this station holding such a special place is that to the right of the station is a worn stone set in the wall. According to tradition, the imprint was made when Jesus stumbled and rested his hand upon the wall to keep his balance.  The touch of centuries of pilgrims has smoothed out the stone and made the depression deeper. During the prayers, I walked and placed my hand on the stone. Other Bishops asked what I was doing, and then I stood speechless as Bishops from across the world lined up and put their hands on the stone. I will never forget that moment. 

While all these sites have the presence of the divine, I am most moved by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Each time I visit, I lay my head on the stone of Calvary. I am always moved to lay my head on the Anointing Stone. I have touched these places where our Lord shared a deep love for humanity. The power of the resurrection tomb is far beyond any feeling, description, or fleeting thought. It is beyond our simple human understanding. 

During the pilgrimage, I established a close bond with all of the Bishops. Through conversations, there is the possibility of deep relationships with two specific Dioceses. Both Dioceses are indigenous first nation dioceses.  One is the Diocese of Amazonia served by Bishop Marinez Bassotto, the Bishop of Amazon, Brazil. She is the first woman elected in Latin America (+Griselda is in the Episcopal Church). Her Diocese serves a majority first nation population. Often she has to travel over 30 hours by boat for a visitation. Both Marinez and her husband Paulo were joyous. I often served as a translator moving from her Portuguese to my Spanish and then into English.  

I also spend a good deal of time with Archbishop Donald Tamihere, Primate of Aotearoa NZ & Polynesia. He lovingly and faithfully serves his Diocese composed of his people - the Maori. He told a story of the process to become their own Diocese. In short, they were left with little or no resources. Yet, they have persevered and are out proclaiming the Gospel. I could not help but reflect on how the vestiges of colonialism are still prevalent in the Church. Not only in New Zealand but throughout the world; yes, even in the Episcopal Church. There is a strength of the first nations. He sang prayers and shared deep wisdom. I must say his wife is absolutely wonderful. She had a fantastic presence and I know Suzanne will simply adore Kisa.  

These two dioceses are moving forward with faith, courage, and hope. With these two dioceses, I believe we can share our gifts of time, treasure, and experience. In return, they can share their gifts of time, treasure, and experience. We can learn for one another through relationships based on love and in Christ. 

I must mention that I have a new piece of jewelry. The Bishop of Amazonia presented each one of us with a wooden ring that has cultural and spiritual meaning to the people of her Diocese. I cannot fully recount the story with the same beauty as my sister, and please forgive if it does not have the same impact. A Bishop gave his gold ring to an Amazon Chief and apologized for the abuse of the land and people. Returning the gold because of the history of gold taken. In return, the chief presented the Bishop with a ring made of wood indigenous to the region. You cannot purchase the ring, it must be given to you. The ring signifies solidarity and oneness with the poor, disenfranchised, the abused, the marginalized, and the oppressed. Bishop Marinez stated that many people are buried with this ring. I now have a piece of jewelry that signifies something more lasting, and I will wear it from this day forward.  

The impact of this pilgrimage highlighted the importance of the Anglican Communion, we belong to something greater than just ourselves; this is the Body of Christ. We need to continue to deepen our relationship within the dioceses and people from throughout the communion. In much the same way, we need to continue to increase the bonds within our Diocese. We are bound by the ligaments of Christ.

In much the same way, this pilgrimage once again moved me deeper in my walk with the Lord. In much the same way, I realized the gifts we possess as a diocese. We have extraordinary people, churches, and faith. Let us not live in the past and go boldly into the future with the hope of the Lord. We have much work to do.  Let us go out into the world with the fire of the early disciples. The world needs us, and we need the world.  It is good to be home in my diocese. I am blessed to serve as your Bishop and know that I love you.  

Thanks to Archbishop Donald for allowing me to steal some pictures of the Dome of the Rock tour and the quote about pilgrims vs. tourists is from an author named Marc on Bad Catholic blog. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Unity - Anglican Communion Pilgrimage (Days 3 & 4)

Good and blessed morning. This will be a long post so please take your time.  It is 3:30 a.m in Nazareth as I continue the Anglican Communion pilgrimage. The Holy Land awakens hearts and minds to the presence of Jesus Christ, and it is often beyond description.  As I mentioned in my last post, our schedule is long and detailed. The day usually begins at 5:45 a.m. and continues until at 9:30 p.m. Prayer, briefings and in-depth discussions frame the themes of the 2020 Lambeth Conference. While out in the Holy Land, we center our work on the sacred sites and discuss scripture at each of the sites.

Throughout my ministry, I have attempted to emphasize the importance of relationship building. While not always successful due to my own ego, false assumptions, and constant failures, I strive to know people on a deeply personal level. I pray to see all people as God’s beloved. During this pilgrimage, I have come to know my fellow pilgrims on a profoundly personal level. I am struck by their love of Christ and their love for their people. I am comforted by our everyday challenges and hold a sense of joy for the opportunities to work, strengthening the Body of Christ. 

Each day, I see my new sisters and brothers not as Bishops, but as friends and family and feel a divine connection. With each step, we have become closer. I tend to tire of the facades of title power, glory, and grandstanding. Walking in the footsteps of our Lord, one tends to remember why we are called to serve. With each conversation, meal or prayer, I do not view my friends as South African, American, Chilean, African, conservative, liberal, black, indigenous or any temporal title that we place on one another. We are one in Jesus Christ. 

In numerous conversations, I have been asked about the problems facing the United States. These pilgrims are concerned about the sins infecting our country.  Specifically, mass violence, racism, and the deep divisions apparent in our country. One Bishop observed that the current problems in our country reminded him of the war his country had endured in the ’90s. His words “the level of violence is similar” caused me to hold their impacts as we visited the Church of the Annunciation. The words of Gabriel to Mary:

‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ 

Her response must be our response:

‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’

As disciples, we need to embody and carry Jesus through every word, action, and prayer. Our faith must not be merely temporal or transactional. Our lives must reflect His power and transformative hope. Do we as Christians in the United States simply follow and or do we fully embody Jesus Christ? Is Jesus our identity, or is he an afterthought to be encountered one hour of the week? It is my prayer that we go deeper in Christ and focus on discipleship.  

As for the sacred sites, I would like to highlight two places we visited. We visited Sepphoris and explored this ancient Roman/Byzantine city. This center of power and commerce was constructed when Jesus was a child. Being less than four miles from Nazareth, Joseph most likely assisted in the construction of the city.  Walking through the ruins, it is easy to imagine Jesus walking the streets with his father and observing the worldly power of Rome (finance, military, dominion) all while knowing it is temporal. Our beloved Savior, holding in his infinite wisdom that only the Kingdom of God is the eternal and lasting Kingdom. I kept remembering my own pledge: I pledge allegiance to the Lamb and to the Kingdom for which it stands. 

As I walked these ancient Roman roads and ruins, my feet following the ruts of the chariots worn into the stones. I kneeled down and felt the grooves. I thought, “where is their power now? “Where are they?” I was looking at the past; an archeological site. The power of Rome with the grand armies, false gods, and the wealth have faded into these stones. Yet, we as His followers are still here. Jesus has Risen. His followers are learning how to continue his message, his life, his hope, and his love. Yes, we are here, and the Lord’s power never fades into oblivion. These ancient stones where Jesus walked speak, and they say - He is present.  

Yesterday, we drove to the Golan Heights to visit Caesarea Philippi. These ruins are on the border of Israel, Lebanon, and Syria.  As we drove through the mountains, you cannot help but notice the numerous yellows signs warning about the land mines in the fields. There are walls that separate people, and they are stark reminders about the intentional separation of people. Yet, the beauty of the residents overcomes all our own constructs of hate. Faces that are Christian, Jewish, and Muslim. There is a holy beauty in their skin tones, clothes, and features. I can imagine how God looks upon their faces, and God sees not the differences but one family.  

Thee human devices that hurt and separate must cause God pain.  We stopped and ate lunch at a Druze community. Children ran up to us at a restaurant and asked to have selfies taken. I could not help but laugh when an elderly lady of 90, dressed in regional clothes made hand motions to have her picture taken.  In each store, we are greeted by smiles and “welcome, welcome.”  We are all God’s people, and visiting with them is truly a list to God's most sacred site. 

As we entered the ruins of Caesarea Philippi, I felt chills running down my back.  This is where Jesus stood in front of the Temple of Pan and asked His disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’” I was filled with the knowledge that the Holy Spirit was present, and I was uplifted. This is the setting for one of my favorite Gospel passages. I use this passage often in teaching, and here I was, standing at the exact spot.   

“Who do you say that I am?” Once again, the realization that Jesus intentionally went beyond all expectations. He crossed human constructs of separation and challenged those false Gods, powers, opulence, and destruction. Jesus is asking is asking us: “who do you say that I am?” How do we answer that question? Who is Jesus for you? As emotions were bubbling up, my only response was “my savior, my life.”

As we were leaving (and it is brutally hot in the Holy Land in August) I prayed next to a stream. One cannot be struck by the realization that Jesus traveled a long distance to Caesarea Philippi (2 hours by bus from Nazareth).  He went beyond the borders of Israel and the Jordan River to ask this question of his disciples. Nothing could contain him; not distance, governments, hate, or our own ideas of division.  Combine this knowledge with the realization that God also moved beyond the realm of heaven to enter into humanity. How then can we argue about immigration, deportation, and separation? Jesus intentionally came into to Caesarea Philippi and our humanity to proclaim a different world. One word was spoken into my prayers - unity.  We must seek unity with God and one another; it is holy.  Jesus is the water of life.

We are off on another day. I keep you in my prayers as I take each step. Pray for me and please let us pray for one another. God is calling us into the world. Hold unity in your prayers. Let us seek union with the Holy One. Let us pray for unity in our diocese and pray for unity with one another. Let us love with the same love as we are loved by God. As I write this last sentence, I hear the Muslim call to prayer in the darkness of the morning. God is speaking through different voices. God is calling us. God bless you and know that I love you.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

The Anglican Communion Pilgrimage (Days 1 & 2)

I use this image of the lamp in the room where St. Jerome wrote the translation of the bible. It represents who we are as the Anglican Communion. All different pieces bound together and the light in the center is Jesus Christ. It is the light of Christ shining through each one of us, that allows the darkness to recede.

Due to the extensive work during this pilgrimage, I may not have the opportunity to share as much as during the diocesan pilgrimage. I will make every effort during those brief free periods to update on the work we are called to undertake. The Secretary-General of the Anglican Communion invited me on this pilgrimage in preparation for Lambeth in July of 2020. I am the only Bishop from the United States and the Episcopal Church. I have been moved by the depth of relationship building during my short time here. I am surprised by the thoughtful questions and sincere desire to learn about the Episcopal Church and our country by our sister and brother Archbishops and Bishops.

I was scheduled to leave Philadelphia on Wednesday at 6:20 p.m and the flight was delayed two hours because of storms over the airport. As of the result, I missed the connecting flight to Tel Aviv from Heathrow. I spent 9 hours at Heathrow waiting for the next plane to Tel Avis. I must say it is hopeful to walk around an airport and simply watch the beauty of humanity. We boarded at Heathrow for the flight and were delayed on the tarmac for 2 1/2 hours and as a result, did not arrive at our quarters located at St. George’s Cathedral until 2:45 a.m. I was a bit jolted reading the schedule where our work began at 7 a.m.  I also received a text from Jude at 4:15 a.m. asking for the Netflix password; time difference son, time difference.

I will not go into all the details fo the first day; however, I was touched by one of our visits today. We traveled to Tekoa the home of prophet Amos. We walked the mountaintop where he tended sheep and traversed down a deep cave that is almost a pristine representation of the cave (inn) where Jesus was born. It is relatively untouched and hidden, and Canon Peterson has worked extensively within this cave. It is also the abandoned 4th Century Byzantine Church of St. Amos.

It is difficult to describe the emotions and presence. Those words from Amos 5 while standing on his fields:

 “10 They hate the one who reproves in the gate, and they abhor the one who speaks the truth. 11 Therefore, because you trample on the poor  and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone,    but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards,    but you shall not drink their wine. 12 For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins”


14 Seek good and not evil,    that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you,    just as you have said. 15 Hate evil and love good,  and establish justice in the gate;

 24 But let justice roll down like waters,   and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Looking upon the Holy Land upon a windswept hill, I could not help but reflect on the poor, how ego's power, dominion and violence seem to be the narrative.   How the voice of Amos calling us to God. Understanding that God has called us not only to be in a relationship with the Holy One (God) but also to be in relationships with others. Holy work as we prepare for Lambeth and look to one another as God’s beloved.

I would like to share the list of those on pilgrimage, and it represents the meaning of our communion and the work in preparation for Lambeth 2020.

The Rt Revd Andrew Asbil, Bishop of Toronto, Canada and Mrs Mary Asbil

The Rt Revd Victor Atta-Baffoe, Bishop of Cape Coast, Ghana and Mrs Dorcas Atta-Baffoe

The Rt Revd Marinez Bassotto, Bishop of Amazon, Brazil and Mr Paulo Bassotto

The Rt Revd Dhiloraj Canagasabey, Bishop of Colombo, Ceylon and Mrs Harshini Canagasabey

The Most Revd Albert Chama, Primate of the Province of Central Africa and Mrs Ashella Ndhlovu The Most Revd Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, Secretary General and Mrs Comfort Amina

The Rt Revd Daniel Gutierrez, Bishop of Pennsylvania, The Episcopal Church, USA

The Rt Revd Robert Innes, Bishop in Europe and Mrs Helen Innes

The Rt Revd Danald Jute, Bishop of Kuching, S E Asia and Mrs Julita Jack Sungul

The Most Revd Paul Kwong, Primate of Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui

The Most Revd Maimbo Mndolwa, Primate of Tanzania

The Rt Revd Lydia Mamakwa, Bishop of Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh, Canada and Mr James Mamakwa
The Most Revd Donald Tamihere, Primate of Aotearoa NZ & Polynesia and Mrs Temukisa Tamihere
The Rt Revd Margaret Vertue, Bishop of False Bay, Southern Africa

The Rt Revd Ellinah Wamukoya, Bishop of Swaziland and Mr Okwaro Wamukoya

The Rt Revd Joseph Wandera, Bishop of Mumias, Kenya and Mrs Brenda Khanani

The Rt Revd Philip Wright, Bishop of Belize, West Indies and Mrs Carla Wright

The Most Revd Dr Tito Zavala, Primate of Chile and Mrs Myriam Ahumada

 Our Chaplains and staff are:

The Revd Canon John Peterson, Former Dean of St Georges College, Jerusalem (’82-’94) and Secretary General of Anglican Communion (’95-‘04)
The Revd Philip Jackson, Vicar Trinity Wall St, New York
Mrs Louise Redfern, PA to the Secretary General, Anglican Communion Office

Via Dolorosa, Tour of the Dome of the Rock, Relationship, Back Home.

My sisters and brothers, I returned from the Anglican Communion Pilgrimage late yesterday. This pilgrimage and every pilgrimage has the...