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Sermon November 9 2014

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

Sermon.11.09.14
St. Paul’s – Brookings
Fr. Larry Ort

Last week we contrasted the reality of the life of the saints as portrayed by the beatitudes with Jesus’ condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees. After this act of condemnation, Jesus leaves the temple and soon thereafter meets privately with his disciples on the Mount of Olives. Jesus begins to discourse on the end of the age.  He tells the disciples, “About that day and hour, no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mat. 24.36; NRSV)…“Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Mat. 24.42; NRSV). Jesus then tells five parables. The first parable observes that had the owner of the house known when the thief was coming, he would have been prepared. The second parable contrasts a faithful and wise servant with a wicked servant; the master will return unexpectedly and catch the wicked servant. The third is the parable of the ten bridesmaids (which we just read). The fourth is the parable of the talents (which we will read next Sunday). And the fifth, is the parable of the sheep and the goats (which we will read two weeks from now). And that brings us to the last Sunday of November – the beginning of advent.

These parables, and today’s lectionary readings, deal with watchfulness and preparation. And what is Advent? A season of watching and waiting as we prepare to celebrate the First Advent. Hence, we now enter an extended Advent season. Some theologians and church leaders are actually advocating the extension of Advent into a seven week season of the Church calendar.

If we are to be prepared for the coming of the end of the age, we must make the right choices — preparation involves choice; one must choose activities of preparation over other routine activities. Our reading from Joshua makes this amply clear. The tribes of Israel have entered the Promised Land and subdued parts of it; they are now gathered at Shechem and presented before the Lord for a renewal of the covenant. Joshua encourages the people to forsake the gods of their ancestors and to serve the Lord. If unwilling to serve the Lord, they must choose whether they will serve the gods of their ancestors or the gods of the Amorites in whose land they are presently living. Then Joshua boldly declares, “But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Jos. 24.15b; NRSV). Choices. Preparation. Are we willing to put away those things in our life which we put in God’s rightful place?  Are we willing to serve our Lord Jesus Christ?

If we are to choose wisely, we must be fully informed of the alternatives. Thus in the gradual we read how the Israelites were to recite “the glorious deeds of the Lord … the wonders that he has done … that the next generation may know them” (Psa. 78.4; NRSV). They were to teach these things to their children (Psa. 78.5) so they could choose wisely.

In Deuteronomy 31, Joshua is named as Moses’ successor. Moses writes down the law, gives it to the priests, and commands that it be read every seventh year (Deu. 31.10). The Mosaic covenant is patterned on ancient suzerainty covenants, covenants between a conquering king and a subject people. Such covenants included stipulations for the public reading of the terms of the covenant. Moses commanded:

Assemble the people—men, women, and children, as well as the aliens residing in your towns—so that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God and to observe diligently all the words of this law, and so that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as you live in the land that you are crossing over the Jordan to possess (Deu. 31.12-13; NRSV).

As you may recall, the Rite I celebration of the Eucharist often includes the reading of the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments, part of the Mosaic Covenant given at Mount Sinai. And what do we do in Sunday School or Church School – we recite the wonderful deeds of the Lord to our children such that they may know the Lord and choose wisely.

In 1 Thessalonians, Paul is addressing the concerns of the community. The early church fully expected that Jesus’ return was imminent, for Jesus had said this generation would not pass away till all the things associated with the end of the age be fulfilled (Mat. 24.34).  So what about those who had died since Jesus’ ascension? Paul is assuring the church that, through Jesus, the dead will be resurrected unto new life. At the sound of the trumpet, Christ shall descend from heaven and the dead in Christ will be raised first. After that, we who are alive will be caught up in the clouds, and together with those who have been raised first, we will meet Christ in the air. And we shall remain with the Lord forever. We are to encourage one another with these words and we are to be prepared for this event, for we know not the hour or the day of Christ’s return or of our death.

This event has come to be known as the rapture, a term found nowhere in the Bible, and variant theologies of the rapture have emerged. Most people are unaware that rapture theology is relatively new. Its roots can be traced to 1820’s London, England and the preaching of a Presbyterian minister named Edward Irving. Irving held that spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues and prophecy would be restored prior to the Second Coming. By the early 1830’s some people began to manifest these gifts, and Irving was dismissed from the Presbyterian Church. In the early 1830’s a very ill woman named Margaret Macdonald had a series of ecstatic visions. She became convinced that the Second Advent would appear in two stages as opposed to the single event long believed. In the first stage, Christ would come secretly only to those who were looking for his return; those who were not looking for Christ’s return would be left behind. In the second stage, all would see Christ’s return. This theology has has entered pop culture through the Left Behind books of Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, and more recently, the Left Behind movie.

Macdonald’s view was popularized by John Darby, a theologian who went on to found the Plymouth Brethren. Darby and his followers fostered renewed interest in biblical languages; they furthered biblical studies. Nonetheless, the rapture theology he espoused which stressed Macdonald’s view if the Second Advent is not supported by the scriptures.

N. T. Wright, a noted Anglican theologian and former bishop, stresses the view set forth in 1 Thessalonians. As we have noted, on this view, the dead in Christ shall rise first, then all others shall be snatched up among the clouds to meet our Lord Jesus Christ in the air. As N. T. Wright observes, the idea of meeting Christ in the air is grounded in a cultural view. Wright says,

When the emperor visited a colony or province, the citizens of the country would go to meet him at some distance from the city. It would be disrespectful to have him actually arrive at the gates as though his subjects couldn’t be bothered to greet him properly. When they met him, they wouldn’t then stay out in the open country; they would escort him royally into the city itself. When Paul speaks of “meeting” the Lord “in the air,” the point is precisely not — as in the popular rapture theology — that the saved believers would then stay up in the air somewhere, away from earth. The point is that, having gone out to meet their returning Lord, they will escort him royally into his domain, that is, back to the place they have come from. (Surprised by Hope, pp. 132-33)

This view better accords with what the rest of the New Testament has to say, and, unlike rapture theology, it is not grounded simply in one person’s ecstatic vision.

The really important thing is that we be prepared for the Second Advent, and this leads us to the reading from Matthew 25, the parable of the ten bridesmaids. Jesus tells us that “the kingdom of heaven will be like this,” then he sets forth the details of the parable. The five wise bridesmaids bring an extra flask of oil but the five foolish bridesmaids bring no extra oil. The bridegroom is delayed, and the bridesmaids fall asleep. When the cry goes up that the bridegroom is coming, the five foolish bridesmaids realize they have insufficient oil. They request the wise bridesmaids give them some oil, but they are refused and told to go purchase oil. Upon returning, they discover that that the wedding banquet is in progress and the door is shut. The foolish bridesmaids plead, “Lord, lord, open to us,” but the bridegroom replies, “Truly I tell you I do not know you” (Mat. 2512; NRSV).

But wait a minute, doesn’t Jesus tell us to give when we are asked to do so? If so, why wouldn’t the five wise virgins share their oil? Is it a matter of would not or could not? As this is an allegory, the oil represents something else – our life in the Spirit. We must be prepared to celebrate the bridegroom’s coming — Christ’s coming. Each of us must accept our own responsibility. Each of us can only prepare himself or herself. I cannot lend you the oil of preparation; I cannot give you my life in the Spirit. So Jesus bids us, “Keep awake, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. “Keep awake” — remain in the Spirit, live in the Spirit. May we never hear those words, “Truly I tell you I do not know you.”

Amen

 

Sermon November 2, 2014

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

Sermon.10.02.14
St. Paul’s
Fr. Larry Ort

For the past several weeks, we have been focusing on the challenges which confronted Jesus and his authority – challenges designed to entrap him in blasphemy. For example, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” (Mat. 22.17b; NRSV) and “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” (Mat. 22.36; NRSV)

Now, “We interrupt our regular broadcast to bring you an update on the Saints.” Yesterday was All Saints Day which we often celebrate on Sunday. Were it not for this special celebration, we would focus on Matthew 23. Rather than choose one or the other, let’s look at both.

At the end of Matthew 22, Jesus has reduced his critics to silence. In Matthew 23, Jesus tells it like it is! What does he call the scribes and Pharisees? “Hypocrites!” And for good measure, he says, “You snakes, you brood of vipers! How can you escape being sentenced to hell?” If they weren’t already angry, that should help!

Today’s Gospel reading, the beatitudes of Matthew 5, sets forth the vision of a new reality – a reality depicted in the life of the Saints. And who is a saint? Anyone who has accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is a saint. If you have been baptized into new life, and if you are living in that new life, you are a saint. Of course, we also recognize that the lives of some saints have been, or are, so exemplary that we give them the title; we often name our churches after such Saints and hold that the church falls under that Saint’s patronage. St. Paul is our patron saint.

There are eight beatitudes, or nine if one counts separately the two verses which reference persecution. I am going to stick with eight. The first beatitude (“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”) and the last beatitude, (“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.),  are stated in the present tense – they reference present conditions. The poor in spirit and those persecuted for righteousness’ sake already possess the kingdom of heaven. The other six beatitudes use the future tense, for example, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Mat. 5.4; NRSV).

This new vision of reality may be contrasted with the reality which Jesus addresses in Matthew 23.  Please attend to the reading:

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students.And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.

 

After having said this, Jesus pronounces seven woes on the scribes and the Pharisees.

Contrasting these two realities is instructive. Each of the beatitudes begins with “blessed,” which can also be translated as “happy.” In honor-shame societies, this may be better translated as “’How honorable…,’ ‘How full of honor…,’ ‘How honor bringing…’” In contrast, “‘Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites…’” may “be translated: ‘How shameless you are…’”  We should also note the honor ascribed in the beatitudes comes from God, not from persons. (Hans Dieter Betz, The Sermon on the Mount: A Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, including the Sermon on the Plain (Matthew 5:3-7:27 and Luke 6:20-49). Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995, p. 97. In http://sio.midco.net/danelson9/yeara/allsaintsa.htm ).

Using “how honorable” for “blessed,” the first beatitude reads, “How honorable are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” In contrast, using “How shameless you are” for “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites…” the first woe becomes, “How shameless you are for locking people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them.”

Again, in the beatitudes we read “How honorable are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Mat. 5.6; NRSV) and “How honorable are the merciful for they will receive mercy” (Mat. 5.7; NRSV). In contrast one of Jesus’ woes condemns the absence of righteousness and mercy: “How shameless you are for you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” (Mat. 23.23-24; NRSV).

The seventh beatitude reads, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God” (Mat. 5. 9; NRSV). Another of the woes recognizes the opposite of peace, for “prophets, sages, and scribes” will be sent, some of whom will be crucified, others flogged in the synagogues and others pursued from town to town such that righteous blood is spilled (Mat. 23.34-35; NRSV).

We must remember that the woes, as harsh as they were, were pronounced in love, for at the conclusion of the woes, Jesus says:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord’” (Mat. 23.37-39; NRSV).

 

Jesus cared enough to confront.

 

Not every beatitude aligns with a woe, but reading the beatitudes provides us a vision of a new reality which stands in stark contrast to the reality Jesus condemns when setting forth these woes. What is truly unfortunate is that Jesus had to address the woes to the religious leaders of the day and age. Were the message delivered today, would it be addressed to the religious leaders?

Which reality do our own actions portray – the reality of the beatitudes or the reality which calls forth the woes? If we are saints, we portray the reality of the beatitudes. We are, and will be, the salt and light which Jesus talks about after preaching the beatitudes.

The vision of the new reality set forth in the beatitudes is expanded in John’s vision of the liturgy as it is described in the Book of Revelation. John describes a multitude too great to count which comes from every nation, tribe, peoples, and language, a multitude dressed in white standing before the throne and the Lamb of God, a multitude which is singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen” (Rev. 7.9-12; NRSV).

One of the elders then asks John, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” John replies, “You are the one that knows.” The elder then said:

These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes (Rev. 7.14-17; NRSV).

 

These are the saints of God who have gone before us. These are the saints of God with whom we celebrate the Eucharist, for we acknowledge: “It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth….Therefore we praise you, joining our voices with Angels and Archangel and with all the company of heaven, who for ever sing this hymn to proclaim the glory of your Name: Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest” (BCP, pp. 361-362).

Let us celebrate the Saints, let us experience the joy of being a saint, and, in worship to God, let us aspire to become even more saintly!  Amen

 

 

 

Meet Fr. Larry Ort

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

From the September 2014 Messenger.

The Rev. Dr. Larry V. Ort began serving as priest-in-charge on March 1, 2014; he and his wife, Judy, moved from their home in Sioux Falls to the rectory next to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in mid-April.
Rev. Ort was ordained an Episcopal priest in June 2013; St. Paul’s is his first parish. Their blended family includes four sons, two daughters, five granddaughters and two grandsons. They share the rectory with an aging, sassy Russian Blue cat.

Dr. Ort received his undergraduate degree in philosophy and religion from Spring Arbor University. He holds a Master of Arts in College Student Development and a Ph.D. in Philosophy, both from Michigan State University.

Larry’s service as a U. S. Air Force officer, as a human resources director, and an educator have provided him with wide ranging and diverse experiences. Shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, Dr. Ort taught for the St. Petersburg State Technological University and later for the Russian-American Institute (RAI) in Moscow. While teaching for RAI, he was named executive vice president.

More recently Dr. Ort served as Vice President for Academic Affairs and Vice President and Dean for Institutional Planning, Research and Development at the University of Sioux Falls.

Larry reads widely; he enjoys classical music, movies, good coffee, and friendships. He also enjoys interacting with students and people from other cultures; he envisions St. Paul’s reaching out to both. Since moving to Brookings, he has discovered a few people who are interested in knowing more about the life and works of Soren Kierkegaard. He is presently forming a Kierkegaard study group.

Fr. Larry recently completed his training in spiritual direction at the Benedictine Sisters of Sacred Heart Monastery in Yankton, SD; he is passionately committed to assisting others in deepening their relationship with God.

Fr. Larry and Judy are enjoying their new home. They have received a warm welcome from the members of St. Paul’s and are impressed with the friendliness of the congregation. They are excited about the opportunities Brookings offers, and they are enjoying meeting and conversing with new people in the community.

Holy Communion (Tentative)

Monday, July 15th, 2013

Title: Holy Communion (Tentative)
Location: St. Pauls
Description: Holy Communion (Tentative)
10th S after Pentecost
Rite I

Celebrant: George Parmeter

Lessons:
Hosea 1:2-10
Psalm 85
Colossians 2:6-15 (16-19)
Luke 11:1-13

Eucharistic Minister: Bob Klein

Lay Reader: Jennifer Lacher-Starace

Ushers: Mark & Patty Kratochvil

Altar Guild: Patty Kratochvil

Nursery: Lynnette Taylor

Coffee Hour: Woodard
Start Time: 10:00
Date: 2013-07-28

Holy Communion

Monday, July 15th, 2013

Title: Holy Communion
Location: St. Pauls
Description: Holy Communion
9th S after Pentecost
Rite II

Celebrant: Bishop John Tarrant

Lessons: Amos 8:1-12
Amos 8:1-11
Amos 8:1-10
Amos 8:1-9

Eucharistic Minister: Bob Lacher

Lay Reader: Ginger Thomson

Ushers: Chuck & Sarah Woodard

Altar Guild: Jean Lacher

Nursery: Connie Nelson

Coffee Hour: Potluck and Meeting with Bishop Tarrant
Start Time: 10:00
Date: 2013-07-21

St Paul’s History III: The Church before the Church Building

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

There Was a Church before a Church Building

Neva Harding’s history notes say that in the early 1890s a few Episcopalians put their heads together and said, “Let’s have a Church in Brookings.” We’ve been making this simple statement ever since.

Mrs. Lorrimer is given credit for writing a request to Bishop Hare. Hare sent Rev. McBride to look us over, and later the Bishop himself came, talked the matter over, and organized the Church.

Church before the ChurchBishop Hare held the first service July 29, 1893 in the G. A. R. Hall (photo), where meetings were held that summer. He held morning and evening services with baptisms and confirmations. He arranged to have Rev. McBride add Brookings to his list of missions for occasional services. There were 40 men and women and children.

Neva Harding writes, “So great was their zeal of these early Episcopalians that by November of the same year, 1893, they were able to hold service in the new church building, at a cost of $1,100, all paid for.” The new church building measured 20 feet by 40 feet. It was built on 7th Street, but later moved to the corner of 5th Street and 5th Avenue to be closer to downtown. Neva wrote, “They all worked like beavers to get the church furnished, including paper on the windows that looked like stained glass. Matt Wimsey bought a carpet on wholesale, and picked up an old organ from some defunct lodge, an organ that had to be pumped twice for every reluctant note produced.”

The photo shows the GAR building (Grand Army of the Republic, Civil War Soldiers) on 5th Street between Main Street and 3rd Avenue. The hall was later moved to the intersection of the railroad tracks and Medery Avenue to become the Odd Fellows Hall.

 

St Paul’s History II: Vintage St. Paul’s

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

Vintage Postcard Shows St Paul’s

Vintage 1 A picture of the first St Paul’s church building was included on a vintage post postcard titled “Brookings SD, The City of Churches.” Our early church was really “on the move.” Yes, early St Paul’s did grow and did influence the community, but the church building was actually moved from the corner of 6th Street and 7th Avenue (just a block away from our current location) to 5th Street and 5th Avenue, a move of 2 blocks that put the church closer to Main Street.
We take pride in the fact that the prestigious Boston firm named Cram and Ferguson designed our current church building and rectory. Ralph Adams Cram, a famous architect, produced many collegiate (e.g. US Military Academy, Princeton, MIT, University of the South, Rice, Sweet Briar) and ecclesiastical works in a neo-Gothic style (e.g. part of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, NY; Church of John the Evangelist, St Paul, MN; St Mark’s Cathedral, Hastings and First Presbyterian Church, Lincoln, NB). When his picture was on the cover of Time Magazine in 1926, Cram was described as “the most influential Episcopal layman in the country.” Records at St Paul’s credit Rev. Paul Roberts, a Connecticut Priest who served St Paul’s from 1912 – 1919, with securing Cram’s services for perhaps his smallest ecclesiastical project – St Paul’s Episcopal Church in Brookings South Dakota.

Vintage 2

 

The picture shows St Paul’s church on the 20th Anniversary (1918 – 1938). The church is much taller than the trees surrounding it. In 2009 one of these elm trees was removed because of Dutch elm disease.

St Paul’s History I

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

The Cornerstone and Entry

The cornerstone of today’s church building was laid in October 1917. Inside is a sealed metal box containing a Bible, prayer book, hymnal, church history, list of parishioners, copies of church publications, a copy of the Brookings Register for October 4th, 1917, and pictures of the old church building, pictures of Bishops Burleson, Hare and Biller, and a 1917 penny and dime.

Church 1

It was said, “The whole community as well as members of St Paul’s Parish are grateful to Mr. Roberts and to the architects that two such unusual buildings as the church and the rectory are here to delight and to inspire.” The church was opened on Easter Day of 1918 (we presume that the Rectory was opened at the same time).

A recent photo of our current building shows changes in the north east corner. The brick steps were removed and the entry was remodeled in 2008-9 to include the leaded glass windows that were removed when the stained glass window was installed. Original interior doors can be opened to brighten the church with light from the amber leaded glass windows.

The downstairs entrance to the basement (far right) was blocked and filled in 2009. Andy Trump remembers shivering on these steps as Sunday School classes waited to enter the church when the sermon ended. The sign was built by Ralph Towne and dedicated to David Pierson in 1992. The grounds around this corner of the church are now a flower garden.

Church 2

The cornerstone of today’s church building was laid in October 1917. Inside is a sealed metal box containing a Bible, prayer book, hymnal, church history, list of parishioners, copies of church publications, a copy of the Brookings Register for October 4th, 1917, and pictures of the old church building, pictures of Bishops Burleson, Hare and Biller, and a 1917 penny and dime.

It was said, “The whole community as well as members of St Paul’s Parish are grateful to Mr. Roberts and to the architects that two such unusual buildings as the church and the rectory are here to delight and to inspire.” The church was opened on Easter Day of 1918 (we presume that the Rectory was opened at the same time).

A recent photo of our current building shows changes in the north east corner. The brick steps were removed and the entry was remodeled in 2008-9 to include the leaded glass windows that were removed when the stained glass window was installed. Original interior doors can be opened to brighten the church with light from the amber leaded glass windows.

The downstairs entrance to the basement (far right) was blocked and filled in 2009. Andy Trump remembers shivering on these steps as Sunday School classes waited to enter the church when the sermon ended. The sign was built by Ralph Towne and dedicated to David Pierson in 1992. The grounds around this corner of the church are now a flower garden.

Thanksgiving Season

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

Dear Friends,

One of the things that we will be doing at Church services on the Sundays of November is a Season of Thanksgiving. St. Paul’s has done this off and on for a few years, and it is something that generally seems to be well received. We will have special additions to the Prayers of the People, as well as setting out the basket for donations to the area Food Pantry. The food collected will be brought up during the offertory on Sundays along with the bread and wine.

Please consider bringing a can or two of food to help in this Season of Thanksgiving endeavor.

Thanks,

-Fr. Ryan

Letter from Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori

Monday, October 18th, 2010

Letter from Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori
September 15, 2010

My brothers and sisters in The Episcopal Church:

The Episcopal Church in Sudan has been a significant national leader and source for peace and reconciliation throughout the hostilities and wars in recent decades. Sudan is facing a referendum in January 2011, during which most observers expect that Southern Sudan will vote to become a separate nation.

As a fellow member of the Anglican Communion, Sudan’s fragile state is a matter for our own concern. Most of us know something of the violence and bloodshed in Darfur, which has been well publicized in the media. Many of us know about, and have even met, some of the so-called “Lost Boys” of Sudan, who immigrated to the United States as refugees beginning in 2001. The Episcopal Church now has a number of Sudanese congregations and communities of faith as a result.

Episcopalians have begun to learn about the violence that continues to face the people of Sudan both in south and north. The warring factions in Sudan reached a peace agreement in 2005, which diminished the level of violence, but did not end it. Part of that Comprehensive Peace Agreement called for a referendum on self-determination and possible independence for Southern Sudan, to be held in 2011.

The current political entity called Sudan is the result of its colonial history, linked with both Egypt and Britain. Since independence in 1956, it has been wracked by civil war and ongoing political and military violence. Sudan has significant natural resources, especially in the form of oil, most of which is located in southern Sudan. The centralized Sudan government in Khartoum is led by President Omar al-Bashir, who has been charged with international war crimes.  Southern Sudan has a share in the national government, and is largely autonomous as a region.  Northern Sudan is primarily Muslim and Shari’a law is the basis for justice. Southern Sudan is home to Christians and those who practice African traditional religions.

The Episcopal Church of the Sudan has approximately 5 million members, and has been a leader in seeking basic human rights, including religious freedom, as well as the hard work of peacemaking.  Many observers believe there is a high likelihood for a re-emergence of violence in the build up to the referendum or in its aftermath, particularly over religious prejudice and control of the oil resources.

The world has a significant stake in peace in Sudan, for any violence unleashed there can quickly destabilize the surrounding nations of Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Congo, Central Africa, Chad, and Libya.  The Sudanese bishops I met in 2008 told me vivid stories of watching arms being moved into southern Sudan by jeep and camel. Those bishops and their congregations, and many, many civilians around them, yearn for peace – for the ability to raise families and crops, to educate their children, and to worship God as they choose.

The United States is a nation founded on principles based on religious freedom, self-determination, and control of the resources of the lands we occupy. Native Americans would challenge those who came later about all of those principles and the ways in which they were (not) upheld, yet most Americans, whatever their heritage, see those principles as foundational. The United Nations holds similar principles as basic to human rights. Sudan is in the throes of a national struggle for basic freedom and human rights.

I want to challenge us as a Church to pray for the people of Sudan, to learn more about the forces driving the violence, and to advocate for a peaceful referendum, and whatever the outcome, a peaceful future. Our churchwide staff has prepared resources for use in your congregation and diocese.

The Episcopal Church can stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Sudan as we enter a season of preparation by prayer, study, and action. As we approach the season of preparation for the Prince of Peace, we pray that his reign may be made real in Sudan. The prayers and labor of people throughout the world can help to prepare the way.

I remain,

Your sister in Christ,

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate