Hello ECMN Deacons,
 
Please email the Commission at deacon@episcopalmn.org to add prayer requests, reach-out, and if you have any questions around the following resources. 
 
Spring Deacon’s Retreat
A Spring retreat for May 21 & 22 is being planned. This retreat will focus on expanding what we talked about during our Fall 2020 retreat. Once again Chris Johnson will facilitate the conversation. Please watch this monthly newsletter and the deacon’s facebook page for more information as it develops. Please save these dates, it will be great to see you all. 

Deacon's Forum by Maureen Otwell, Deacon St. Mary's, Basswood Grove
I find my heart heavy as I write this essay. I was asked to write about what I am doing as a deacon; what my ministry is like in these times. I find it difficult, however, to write about preaching the social gospel, tending to the poorest among us and bringing spiritual nourishment to my fellow congregation members when our spiritual path is in disarray. By spiritual path, I mean Christianity. 

The Covid virus has forced all of us in ECMN to reconsider how we do everything church-wise. Covid has stripped away the physical space which I most identified as my spiritual home. The sacred rites held under a common roof with a gathered people; the Eucharist prepared and shared as spiritual nourishment at a common table — these mainstays of my life have been gone for months. I deeply miss this spiritual gathering and the centering it brought to my life.

The inability to have those elements that constituted my basic spiritual life from my childhood into this time, made me consciously reflect on where my own spirituality is grounded. I am not through pondering this question yet, but I will share with you some of my thinking in this period of Covid and social upheaval.  

The theology and practices in the Episcopal church are centered on the spiritual messages with which I grew up — love, forgiveness, grace, and generosity. However, the social upheaval of the last year has made me consider my faith in institutional Christianity of any denomination. Are we too grounded in the brick and mortar? Have we become complacent with the congregation who supports us in our temples? Are we too complacent with simply keeping our physical space for those of us still attached to these lovely spaces. My real fear is that this complacency has drawn our attention away from a schism in Christianity. Have we allowed Jesus’ Good News to be co-opted by false prophets? This time feels more than a time of theological dissent — the theological divisions are becoming closer to a great, unreconcilable chasm.  

I feel like we are facing a time similar to that of the residents of Jerusalem in 70 CE. The temple has been destroyed and we are scattered to our own resources. The comfortable boundaries of the old rituals are gone and the path into the future is unclear. What will we carry with us into the future and what should we shed? When we speak of the Good News, where will we proclaim it? Who will be listening? Are we wandering once again in the wilderness, waiting for God to appear on the top of a mountain with directions?  

I don’t believe, however, that Covid is the greatest threat facing Christians in the 21st century. As one of many Christian communities, I feel we Episcopalians have been silent in face of the resurgence of white Christian Nationalism throughout the end of the 20th century. White Christian nationalism has been a central part of religious history in the United States since the invasion of the Americas by Europeans. But despite claims, theology was not a strong message in the founding of the United States. Yes, all of the presidents up to now have been Christian in name, however most of the founders claimed to be Deist and three presidents (Andrew Johnson, Jefferson and Lincoln) had no affiliation with any denomination of Christianity. Many others had only a loose connection to any specific Christian denomination — including past President Donald Trump. For many Christians today, we could be complacent at the re-writing of history among some denominations because we felt militant Christian nationalism was confined to the churches located in the south after the Civil War and was not our branch of Christianity. How surprised were you to see its ugly head begin to rise up in the rest of the country? I would claim this has happened because the identity of whiteness has become more important than one’s identity as Christian.  

Since the 1970s we, white Christians, have been mostly silent in the face of a resurgence of Christian nationalism. Our churches and our church leaders were mostly silent as churches segregated when slavery ended in 1865; we were mostly silent as people of color were once again dispossessed of all their civil rights during the Reconstruction Era; we were mostly silent when The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King wrote to us (clergy) from the Birmingham jail. And too many of us think that the expression “All Lives Matter” is a better substitute for “Black Lives Matter” — missing the point altogether. To be a righteous person in God’s eyes, I believe, we can no longer afford to be silent. We are facing not only a divided nation at this moment, but a divided Christianity as well. Perhaps, it is time for white Christians to choose a side. In my opinion one cannot be righteous in God’s eyes and stand with or even tolerate the type of Christianity demonstrated within the movement called Christian nationalism.  

Christian nationalism was readily apparent and quite well integrated into the attack of our nation’s Capitol on January 6. People in the mob were praying for God’s intervention; they were saying their prayers as fellow members of their groups were brutally attacking others. Their comrades-in-arms were searching for specific people to either capture of kill. The mob assembled in front of the Capitol were carrying signs that proclaimed God and Trump as though they were the same entity or at least fellow travelers. One person was quoted as saying: “We’ll leave judgment to God, but we’ll make sure they get there.” They were prepared to deliver those of us who don’t believe as they do on the point of a sword. God’s name was used to cheer on the crowd; our Christian apocalyptic language was used to egg the crowd into a frenzy to commit sins of inhumanity. It’s one thing to believe our pulpits should remain free of political opinions. But has that become an excuse for not calling out a Christianity that has run amuck and is following false prophets? Does modern day Christian theology have to include this militant branch that claims the name? 

I am unsure if Christianity can be rescued or resuscitated from this latest resurgence of militant Christianity. Christianity has been used in the past to shore up kings and empires; the present day is not unusual in the past history of Christianity. Is this time so different? Could it be different if we who see false prophets speak up?

One opinion writer in the Christian News Network, Robert P. Jones, wrote that the chaos and attack on the Capitol “… made plain the powerful ideological and theological currents of American politics that often stay just under the surface. The emblems carried by the rioters — particularly the comfortable juxtaposition of Christian and white supremacist symbols — bear witness to these forces.” In the Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg wrote that “the conflation of Trump and Jesus was a common theme at the rally” among people he interviewed on that day.

Author Jones draws our attention to the fact that the United States has quickly become a nation without an ethnic majority — let alone a white majority. As Jones writes, “Since 2008, the country has moved from being a majority Christian nation to one that is no longer a majority Christian nation (from 54% white and Christian to 44% white and Christian). This change took place during the tenure of our first African American president. The dysfunction and violence we are seeing is in large part an attempt to preserve a vision of white Christian America that is passing from the scene.”

We white folks aren’t taking this news very well. Jones writes: “This seditious mob was motivated not just by loyalty to Trump, but by an unholy amalgamation of white supremacy and Christianity that has plagued our nation since its inception and is still with us today. … there remains a disturbingly strong link between holding racist attitudes and identifying as a white Christian.

This may not describe all of us white Christians, but any dissent we might offer is muffled by the rhetoric of this other side of Christianity. Is schism a responsible answer in these times? Paul urged the Corinthians to ignore the voices of the others who claimed to have the real truth about Jesus and to hold fast to what he had taught them. Ignoring, I am afraid, isn’t an adequate response in our times. We are faced with both an increasing secular population and increasing authoritarian theocracies throughout the world. Can we repent and atone for the militant uses of Christianity in our past, and can we reject this latest militant use of Christianity in our post-modern world? This is not only a political crisis, this is a theological crisis. 

What is our role as Christian deacons in this uncertain future? What is our role as Episcopalians in this uncertain future? I am finding it more diaconal and spiritually satisfying to align myself with those white people seeking understanding of institutional racism and white privilege and who represent multiple Christian denominations or who claim no Christian affiliation. Together perhaps a different “Followers of The Way” will arise from the ashes. 

We would love stories and ministry ideas to share in our monthly newsletter. Please send any articles you would like to submit to this email address (deacon@episcopalmn.org).
 
Deacon Facebook and Web Page
There are always new and informative posts on the deacon’s Facebook page. Please check it out here. Additionally, we are collecting our Commission meeting notes and Deacon Stories on our Diaconate page on the ECMN site here.

Retired Deacon Stories
The Commission is working to collect ministry/life stories from retired Deacons in Minnesota. We hope to produce a compendium of Deacon stories that reflect the life of Deacons in Minnesota that will monument our history. In addition to interviews, stories of Deacons who have passed on are welcome, and will be added to the collection. For further information, contact The Rev. Harlan Strong at harlanstrong@comcast.net.
 
School for Formation (SFF) Opportunities:
Do you get the School for Formation newsletter? Do you want to stay up-to-date on the SFF's offerings? Sign up for the newsletter here and join in on the donation based Spring courses.

Upcoming courses include:
  • Safe Church Training
  • Security and Emergency Management
  • Building Bridges Across Race and Culture
  • Christian Spirituality
 
NEW On-Demand Course:
Make Me an Instrument of Peace: A Guide to Civil Discourse For Groups. A new offering from the School for Formation's partnership with ChurchNext. This free 5-week online curriculum was built in conjunction with The Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations and its Department of Faith Formation. "Civil discourse is engagement in conversation intended to enhance understanding. The goal of these conversations is to be in deeper relationship and to more truly know each other’s’ dignity and worth." Log in to find it here: https://ecmn.pathwright.com/
 
There are several other on-line learning opportunities through the ECMN School for Formation that can be found HERE.
 
Twin Cities Stand Together (TCST)
ECMN is partnering with TCST to operate a community center out of the Gethsemane building that will house programs for downtown residents of all ages, serving the needs of our most marginalized citizens, and will act as a hub for groups who are working to address systemic racism in our city. For more information click HERE.
 
Hunger in the Time of Corona Virus
The Rev. Georgianna Smith offers the following website for a summary of food insecurity in key U.S. locations, link HERE.
 
In our Prayers
  • Bob Hoffman, in discernment
  • Lowell Johnson
  • All homeless, and those living on the street
  • Vaccine for COVID-19
  • People of have contracted and/or died from COVID-19
  • Are there others, email deacon@episcopalmn.org?
 
Chaplains for the Diaconate
The Reverends Harlan Strong, Brenda Hoffman, and Rick Todd are the members of our Commission who serve as Deacons for all the Deacons in Minnesota. They are here to offer connection, prayer and support for us and they welcome your emails. They are happy to talk with you one-on-one regarding and needs. Harlan can be contacted at harlanstrong@comcast.net, Brenda at bgrhoffman@hotmail.com and Rick can be contact at rick.todd1626@gmail.com.
 
Your work matters to the Commission, and to ECMN, and you deserve to be heard and recognized. We want to hear your concerns and suggestions for improving our ministry and for being in solidarity with each other as we build up the body of Christ. Email the Commission at deacon@episcopalmn.org.

Peace and Blessings,
Brenda and Terry
Commission for the Diaconate Communicators

The purpose of the Commission for the Diaconate is to serve as a resource for the community of deacons within ECMN and they hope to do this through networking, coordinating events, and pastoral support.

As a way of increasing communications for and among all deacons in the Episcopal Church in Minnesota, the Commission for the Diaconate has launched an online newsletter. It is intended to be a monthly communication, and will follow monthly commission meetings. The format will include updates, announcements, and events. The Commission will be working on creating an accessible on-line forum space where deacons can share ideas, post articles, and network with each other. Stay tuned for that information! For now, please consider joining the ECMN Deacon Facebook group.

To communicate with The Commission, you can always email deacon@episcopalmn.org. The current Commission members are:
The Rev. Dawnlynn Greeney, Convener/Chair (St. James, Marshall)
The Rev. Janet MacNally, Vice-convener (St. Paul's Lake of the Isles, Minneapolis)
The Rev. Georgianna Smith (St. Clement's, St. Paul)
The Rev. Harlan Strong (Epiphany, Plymouth)
The Rev. Rick Todd (St. John's, White Bear Lake)
The Rev. Brenda Hoffman (Ascension, Stillwater)
The Rev. Terry Erickson (St. Mark's Cathedral, Minneapolis)
The Rev. Lynne Sprick (St. Mark's, Lake City)
The Rev. George Ham (St. John's, St. Cloud)