My first official activity following last Friday’s surgery to repair my broken collarbone was Tuesday evening in Forrest City, where I ordained Peggy Barry as a transitional deacon. Peggy is part of the ministry team at Good Shepherd Church, a team that has been working for several years toward the goal of raising up locally trained ordained ministers for the sacramental life of a congregation and locally trained lay ministers for the daily administrative and teaching functions needed in a congregation.
The people at Good Shepherd are a good model of how congregations in small towns can be vibrant. They take everything from music to hospitality seriously, and they have a desire to work with other area Episcopal churches, in particular with Christ Church in Forrest City and congregations in Wynne, Marianna, and West Memphis. Each of those congregations was represented at the ordination Tuesday.
I want to continue to work with congregations in small towns so that we have vibrant communities of faith. The Episcopal Church is not simply a church for people in large cities; folk everywhere need to hear the good news that we proclaim of God’s unconditional love. I know that there are hurdles to be overcome. How we educate lay and ordained ministers in these congregations is a concern that continues to challenge me and every other bishop I have talked to. Every time that we think we have an answer we find another challenge. The answers are not easy. One good thing is that this fall in the House of Bishops we are going to spend some time talking about academic and educational standards for people not trained in three-year seminaries. It is the first time that we have tackled the issue, and it will take some time to work out the details.
But rest assured that my staff and I do not cease trying to discover how we can provide healthy, trained leaders in all our existing congregations and in congregations that we have yet to found. After all, my goal is that as many people as possible discover God’s love through the Episcopal Church. The ordination in Forrest City Tuesday was one way that such a proclamation starts being made; I could see it in the eyes of the people present there.