Wednesday, September 05, 2007

New bishop in the Diocese of Olympia

From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

Sounding as if he were a missionary, an accurate job description in the least churchgoing corner of America, the Rev. Gregory Rickel speaks of being called to "a great challenge and exciting one."

"It's a chance for us to be a model -- if we figure it out -- on how to do church in inhospitable terrain," said Rickel, who will be installed next week as the eighth Episcopal bishop of Olympia. Rickel, 44, may help provide the fresh air badly needed by declining Seattle-area mainline religious denominations.

The Diocese of Olympia, which covers Western Washington, is parched for leadership. Its membership, currently 34,000, has slightly declined during a time when more than a million people moved to the region. Other so-called "mainline" denominations have declined as well. It has prompted a less-than-charitable reaction by some fundamentalists. . .

. . . The new bishop has some tricky moves to make, beginning at the hour of his installation Sept. 15. The outgoing regime at the Diocese of Olympia spent $15,000 to rent Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue, despite strong feelings among clergy that the ceremony belonged in a "sacred space," i.e., a church.

Rickel has finessed the ceremony. A big question in the diocese was whether its second-ranking figure, Bishop Suffragen Nedi Rivera, would stay on. Rivera lost in May's voting for diocesan bishop. "She's staying and preaching at my ordination," Rickel said.

Rickel faces another immediate challenge. The conservative leadership at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Oak Harbor voted to leave the diocese and affiliate with an Anglican diocese in Recife, Brazil.

In what's widely viewed as a shortchanging of parishioners who stayed loyal, the Diocese of Olympia signed a covenant that leaves the dissidents in control of the building. Loyalists are confined to a small chapel.

"I'm going to give it attention," Rickel said. "I want to discern the differences between the covenant and what's actually on the ground.". . .

. . . The new bishop brings wit to the job. Brought up a Methodist, he attended a Catholic high school in Little Rock, whose principal tried to interest him in becoming a Roman Catholic priest.

"I told him, 'I like girls. I think the pope is sometimes silly. And I don't like it at communion when you send me to the end of the row.'

"He replied, 'You sound like a damned Episcopalian.' "

Read it all. I don't know anything about the situation at St. Stephen's in Oak Harbor, but it sounds as if their covenant with the diocese might be short-lived. In an earlier story in the Post-Intelligencer, Rickel is quoted as saying:

. . . The Rev. Gregory Rickel, rector of St. James Episcopal Church in Austin, Texas, said a separation between the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion may be inevitable.

"It may be for our time that we have to be a prophetic witness in the world," reflected Rickel "If we must spend time apart, so be it."

Rickel recalled that the church split in the Civil War -- "fighting bishop" Leonidas Polk led Confederate troops -- but, like the Union, was reunited.

In Rickel's view, however, the church must move beyond the gay issue. "We cannot spend all of our energy on our pathologies," he argued.

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