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Susan BurnsEssay Answers from
  SUSAN BURNS

 

The following are the 3 questions each of the candidates were asked in their initial Nomination/application to enter the Search Process.  Each of the candidate's original answers have not been revised and are presented here to assist in assessing the leadership strengths of each candidate who will be on the Convention ballot October 12.

 

 

 

QUESTION #1   How will you provide leadership in this diocese regarding the important issues facing The Episcopal Church today? How will you engage those who disagree with you?

First, I will practice and encourage prayerful, respectful listening, especially where people disagree with each other. I will maintain perspective and patience around the issues that threaten the unity of The Episcopal Church (TEC), and encourage a sense of perspective and patience in the diocese. Finally, I will communicate my thinking and decisions about our important issues thoughtfully and clearly, and in a timely manner.

As we can see in the present differences within The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, what we discern, decide, and do can put us on the way of the cross. So it is important always to keep praying, listening, and talking to each other. I seek to engage those who disagree with me by reaching out, inviting them into conversation, and by hearing them prayerfully, with curiosity and affection.

Disagreement and conflict are not negative in themselves.  Respectful disagreement can move all of us to broader, deeper understanding of any issue and of each other. Questions and differences of opinion press us to examine our own assumptions and conclusions, and to stretch to understand how someone else has reached a contrary conclusion. In dialogue, we can uncover more fundamental principles and values we share, e.g., a commitment to remain in communion. Unresolved disagreements need not become the focus of a relationship. I would hope, where necessary, to agree to disagree, that our conversation itself would increase our respect and affection for one another, and that we would work together to build up the Body of Christ.

We live in interesting and challenging times, but not uniquely so. Ever since the first century, the Church has been working out how we will be in communion with each other when we disagree. Pressing issues in New Testament times included whether circumcision would be required for male Gentile converts (Galatians 2:11-14), whether eating with Gentiles was allowed for Jewish Christians (Acts 10), and whether Christians could eat meat sacrificed to idols (1 Corinthians 8:1-13). We have always been discerning how to be the Church in new and changing circumstances. Having a broad perspective helps us to stay calm, patient and hopeful in the midst of a storm.

Change takes time. The English Reformation took at least 150 years (1534 -1688), some of them violent. The Episcopal Church lately has been going through a long season of change, with no blood shed as yet, thanks be to God. In the past 50 years or so, Episcopalians have experienced the greater role of lay persons–men, women and children–as leaders in worship. Women serve on vestries and are ordained as deacons, priests and bishops. We experienced significant liturgical changes with the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, and added modern and inclusive hymns in the Hymnal 1982, Lift Every Voice and Sing, and Wonder, Love and Praise. We have come a long way toward full inclusion of gay and lesbian persons in the life of the Church. The Church has renewed its focus on mission, evangelism, and growth–serving and welcoming neighbors near and far. This is a lot of change for our people to absorb, welcome though the changes may be to many.

As issues arise and develop, all people need opportunities to be informed, to learn, and to be heard. Every member is affected by the current issues around sexuality and what TEC’s relationship with the Anglican Communion will be. Everyone needs the means and opportunity to come to informed conclusions about the issues. I would encourage parishes and regions to continue to study relevant scripture and history, to talk to each other in open respectful discussions, and, above all, to listen. I would make sure that parishes and regions are made aware of and have access to documents and information through the diocesan web site that will help us stay in constructive dialogue about our concerns.

As a leader in the Church, I believe it is important to be clear about where I stand on issues, and to be open about the process of prayerful study, discussion and reflection through which I have reached a position. While my thinking is still developing, it may be important to share that fact, as well. I am comfortable using all forms of communication: speaking in person with individuals and with small and large groups, and speaking by telephone or video conference if appropriate. I would anticipate writing in the diocesan newspaper, communicating in on-line formats, and sending pastoral letters when needed, by email and post.

Listening is an important part of the process by which I arrive at positions and make decisions. As a rector, and if I were a bishop, there are times when my decisions and actions cannot be simply a matter of my own preferences or opinions, my own instincts or insights, or what I would choose for myself alone. In decisions affecting the Church, locally or as a whole, my practice is to seek out the wisdom, experience and concerns of others, and to speak or act after prayerful consideration, looking always for what is necessary, possible, and most helpful in a situation.

With respect to the current issues of the consecration of a gay bishop living in a faithful relationship with a person of the same sex, the blessing of same sex unions, and the controversy these issues have engendered in TEC and the Anglican Communion, I am in agreement with the March 20, 2007, Bishops’ “Mind of the House” Resolutions. (Posted 3/20/07 at Episcopal News Service, <http://www.episcopalchurch.org>.) It is profoundly important that TEC continue as part of the Anglican Communion, and remain in as full communion as possible with other constituent members, both as a testament to Christ’s mandate to love one another, and giving witness to a broken world of the Church’s commitment to reconciliation. In seeking to remain in communion, however, TEC should not agree to the Primates’ Pastoral oversight scheme. If, as it seems, TEC may not be able to participate fully in the councils of the Anglican Communion for what may be a long season, it is right that we continue to cooperate in and support mission commitments.

I believe that the full inclusion of gay and lesbian persons in the Church, in all orders of ministry, is implicit in our Baptismal Covenant. The welcome and inclusion of all persons flows from the promises to “proclaim by word and example the good News of God in Christ,” to “seek and serve Christ in all persons,” and to “respect the dignity of every human being.” (BCP 305) I find it hard to justify refusing to bless the relationship of faithful Christian adults living in a loving, committed relationship.

 

QUESTION #2   Our diocese is highly diverse in multi-cultural expression and a combination of urban and rural/frontier geography. How would you lead the education and ministry development in such a large and sparsely populated diocese?

These are, indeed, big challenges both in education and ministry development for laity, those discerning a call to ordination, and clergy. The Diocese of Nevada is very different from the large metropolitan areas where I have been in ministry, all with high population density, an abundance of resources and primarily stipendiary, seminary educated clergy. Of course Nevada would be a learning experience, but education and ministry development for all the baptized are areas in which I already have an active interest.  I plan to attend the Church Development Institute training in Seattle, in June, 2007 and 2008 (<http://www.congregationaldevelopment.com/CDI >). This is experiential leadership training that includes focus on ministry of the baptized and development of diocesan resources to support congregational development.

With respect to the size of the Diocese of Nevada, the relatively small number of parishes makes it possible for the bishop to know each one well, which would be very helpful in developing education and ministry. It strikes me that with its sparse population, widespread communities in large parts of the diocese, and multi-cultural diversity, Nevada resembles the early church, but with faster transportation and communications. I do have experience in multi-cultural contexts, through interfaith dialogue programs in the parish, and the ministry of Street Church. Street Church is an outdoor worship and lunch program serving the homeless and some office workers, parishioners of the downtown church that sponsors it and of a suburban parish (Redeemer). I would welcome the opportunity to be in ministry among people with a wide variety of gifts, backgrounds and experience.

On arriving in Nevada, I would begin by assessing the education and ministry development, on the ground, with those actively involved. I would consult and work closely with the Canon to the Ordinary and Deployment Officer, now providing staff focus and direction for congregation and ministry development. I would also consult and work closely with the diocesan participants in the Living Stones Partnership, members of the Commission on Ministry, the Frontier District missioner, and others they would recommend who have a stake and experience in education and developing the ministry of the baptized. I would want to participate in the Living Stones Partnership conferences and dialogue, and learn how neighboring and other similar dioceses are addressing the challenges at hand.

I have read “Forming Ministering Communities,” presented at the Living Stones Partnership Conference in February, 2007. I am impressed with the commitment of those giving their time and thoughtful efforts to create a transparent and effective process of discernment, education and assessment for individuals to identify their ministries and be supported in them. I would look forward to hearing how the Living Stones conferees responded to the case study, and how the directions outlined in the study will have developed over a year’s time.

Depending on how the process had developed, I would emphasize education and training for a team of lay and clergy leaders as consultants for parishes in congregational development, and explore sources of initial grant funding. I would be curious to learn more about the Diocesan School of Theology. What courses were provided? How effective was the school in drawing members of local parishes to support education for lay persons in addition to those in the process for ordination? Would it make sense to consider re-instituting the school, or is a combination of on-line courses and instructional DVDs working? There are good on-line resources available, including some to support lay ministry in daily life and work (e.g., Ministry in Daily Life, < http://www.episcopalchurch.org/mdl >). I would hope the diocese could find a good balance between on-line and face-to-face education and training, and would welcome the opportunity to teach.

 

QUESTION #3   How does your theology integrate the elements of scripture, reason and tradition?
Are there differences in your focus and style when functioning in pastoral or leadership roles?

My theology is shaped by scripture and tradition, illuminated by reason–study, reflection, discussion. Scripture and tradition are the ground of my theology, but they do not exist in a vacuum, or apart from broader knowledge, learning and experience. Prayer and meditation are important practices in integrating these three bases of theology and authority. I also experience the power and presence of the Holy in the embodied actions of Baptism (pouring and blessing the water, anointing the baptized with water and holy oil) and the Eucharist (taking, blessing, breaking, giving.) These actions create a physical integration of meaning.

Presiding at the sacraments and offices of the Church has also shaped my theology. What I profess in the creeds and Baptismal Covenant, celebrate in the sacraments and proclaim in preaching and teaching continues to challenge and transform me. I cannot pray the words of the burial office, for example, without taking them in and letting them act in me. They have become part of the core that animates my life and my ministry as pastor and leader. The proclamation of resurrection and hope in the midst of death and grief, through the scripture, anthems, hymns and prayers in the service, has tremendous power for the proclaimer as well as the hearers.

All this has shaped my theology, and my faith in the God who says, “See, I am making all things new . . .” (Revelation 21:5), to whom we pray, “. . . let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new . . . .” (BCP 280, 291, 515, 528, 540) Our God is a God of surprises, encountered throughout scripture and today. A God who created all things in love and declared them good, whose steadfast love did not abandon us to death. God has astonished us in the incarnation, the cross, and the resurrection to new life. The Lord speaks in scripture, the tradition of the Book of Common Prayer, in the hearts and minds of the people, in the words of the saints. “All will be well, and all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well.” (Julian of Norwich, Showings (Paulist Press, 1978), 225).

I was drawn to The Episcopal Church by the beauty of the liturgy, especially the Eucharist. The Baptismal Covenant, especially the five questions that follow the Apostles’ Creed (BCP 304-05), have become central to my faith and practice over the years. I value the diversity of our worship in the Book of Common Prayer. Our liturgy draws both on Jewish liturgical tradition and early Christian liturgy, and it speaks in modern language as well as older forms. We are a church with room for exploration of faith, questions and new insights, with acceptance of differences, in the Anglican tradition of the via media. May this continue to be so.

“Scripture, tradition and reason” is the traditional Anglican formulation of the bases of authority in the Church. The shift in order here–“scripture, reason and tradition ”–suggests the central importance of reason in the interpretation of scripture and development of tradition. “Authority” may have a ring of finality, but revelation is ongoing.

In both pastoral and leadership roles, I am centered in the gospel and the broad tradition of the Church, drawing on the gifts of reason, through learning and experience. In a pastoral role, my focus is on the individual(s), and the particular circumstances before us. I listen prayerfully to help the person(s) discern where God is in this, what God’s invitation in this is for them. The wider mission and direction of the Church is usually peripheral. I am listening with the person, about this person’s life.

In a leadership role–worship, teaching, planning, presiding at meetings–I am more outwardly focused on what is happening in a broader context. What is being said or trying to be said. How can what we are doing be an opportunity for greater understanding, deeper relationship, moving forward with what is needed for the mission and work of the Church. How can I open space for the action of the Spirit, and encourage others to do so.


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