Advent Prayer Offerings from the Diocese of Nebraska Creation Community
“Sin is the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation,” according to the Catechism in The Book of Common Prayer. By that definition, our disregard for the environment is indeed sinful. Our repentance this Advent season requires us to examine our neglect of the environment that sustains life on this earth and to change our way of life so we are better stewards of the gift of God’s creation.
Advent is also a time when a walk outside can reveal much to bring us joy: winter birds, sometimes footprints in the snow, soft pink light at sunset, and dazzling stars at night. When we look around and notice the wonders all around us, we realize that repentance returns us to a place of great love and great joy in God’s creation.
This week we pray:
Merciful God, you have sent us prophets in the form of scientists and environmental advocates who can teach us how to better care for the gift of your creation that sustains every living thing on the earth. Help us to better hear them and learn from them, that we can continue to find joy in your creation and pass along the gift of your creation to future generations. Give us penitent hearts and such joy in your creation that our desire is to do what is right. We pray this in the name of the Son that you sent to live among us because you so loved the world. Amen.
*Spoiler Alert: The following contains spoilers for Thor: Ragnarok.*
Ragnarok is perhaps the most enduring aspect of Norse mythology. The heroic gods of Asgard and their treacherous foes meet in a final battle that spells doom for both. The Einherjar (who died gloriously in battle) and the legions of Hel (who did not) will slaughter each other. Fenris Wolf, the gigantic son of Loki, will slay Odin, the king of the gods, only to fall at the hands of Odin’s son Vidar. Odin’s son Thor, the god of thunder, and Jormungundr, the Midgard serpent and another spawn of Loki, will end each other, as will the trickster god Loki and Heimdall the watchman. Surtur the fire giant will burn the nine realms, but after the destruction new life will spring from the world tree. (For an introduction to these stories, I would highly recommend Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology.)
Early in November, Marvel released Thor: Ragnarok, the third standalone film starring the character based on the Norse god of thunder. Although a movie that was a straight-up retelling of Ragnarok myth could be awesome, this is not that movie (although, as a genuinely funny and consistently entertaining superhero movie, it nonetheless flirts with awesomeness). The relationship between the Thor movies and the mythology that inspired them is tenuous at best: the Marvel characters of Thor, Loki, and Odin are recognizably drawn from their Viking roots, but the plotlines of the movies have little to do with the myths. Ragnarok is most definitely revisionist mythology, appropriating a few elements from the story in service of a radically different plot.
Interestingly, Ragnarok is keenly aware that it is revisionist mythology, and a significant theme in the movie is how we re-imagine our stories for our own ends. Upon his return to Asgard, Thor walks in on a play retelling the conclusion of the previous movie (Thor: The Dark World). The play was apparently written by Loki, who secretly took Odin’s form and position as ruler of Asgard at the end of that movie, and the writing recasts those earlier events so that Loki dies a hero’s death and receives praise from his adoptive father and brother (Odin and Thor). The play’s blatant (and highly amusing) reinterpretation of events that have gone before reminds us that even the treacherous Loki is a hero in his own story, and sets the stage for the movie’s fascinating reinvention of Ragnarok.
The main thrust of Ragnarok entails a wholly new spin on the backstory of Odin and the nine realms. After the events of The Dark World, Odin has been approaching the end of his life exiled in Norway. His death releases the bonds that kept Hela imprisoned, and she appears and quickly proves herself more powerful than Thor or Loki. Instead of being Loki’s daughter and the queen of Hel (the realm of the undistinguished dead), this version of Hela is Odin’s firstborn and served as the leader of Asgard’s armies during the conquest of the nine realms. Afraid of her ambition to expand Asgard’s rule even further and regretting the bloody conquest that had already taken place, Odin had Hela imprisoned and written out of history so effectively that neither Thor (who Odin sired in the hope of handing the throne of Asgard to him instead) nor Loki (who has a tendency to ferret out secrets) had any idea of her existence. When Hela enters the throneroom of Asgard, she tears down the frescoes depicting the nine realms at peace under the benevolent guidance of Odin and Thor, revealing another set of frescoes beneath them showing Odin and Hela as conquerors slaughtering their enemies. Unlike her father, Hela feels no guilt over their past and is proud of her martial exploits and cruelty. Although the film doesn’t draw particular attention to it, this scene serves as a marvelous indictment of the European and American desire to forget the atrocities of the past and pretend that our colonialism was all for the good (because, if our ancestors did it, then we can’t challenge the morality of it).
After an adventure as a gladiator on another planet entirely, Thor returns to Asgard with new allies to fight Hela in the hope of averting Ragnarok and the destruction of Asgard. As it becomes increasingly apparent that Hela is unbeatable as long as she’s drawing power from Asgard (as is her birthright), Thor concludes that instead of canceling the apocalypse he must instigate it, because destroying Asgard is the only way to prevent Hela from conquering other worlds. Loki commences Ragnarok by manifesting Surtur, and his flames bring an end to both Asgard and Hela. In this complete revision of the myth, a few familiar elements of Ragnarok have been appropriated for a sequence of events that is no longer the end of all things but merely the destruction of one realm and the death of a super-villain (and of course the eradication of hordes of civilians and minions, but who’s counting?).
Having passed Thanksgiving, we are now firmly within secular Christmas season, a time of inescapable holiday music, evergreens and lights decorating everything, and ubiquitous reminders to show our relatives and friends that we love them by buying them things. The most common Christmas stories lack even a tangential relationship to the Biblical Christmas story: a bearded stranger in red sends his minions to spy on children before entering their houses with presents, an oppressive curmudgeon is frightened into acting with basic human decency, a reindeer is bullied because of his physical difference until that difference proves useful to the other reindeer.
Sometimes it even feels like we are revising Christmas in the Gospels to something far less world-shattering, as Ragnarok did with Ragnarok. The birth of Jesus is an ugly thing, at least according to Luke: a boy is born to an unwed mother in the ancient equivalent of a garage, surrounded by animal dung, in a town in which she was an unwelcome stranger. Yet in Christmas pageants, crèches, and sometimes even sermons, the birth is reduced to something cute and “aww”-inspiring, and in those same stories, we tend to forget that this child came into the world to end the world as we know it, to overturn imperial orders based on power and inaugurate a new kingdom rooted in love. In almost direct contrast to our secular revision of Christmas, Jesus’ birth calls us to live in a new world in which my wants as an individual and our wants as a group do not come at the expense of another’s needs. Where our revisions of Christmas seek to overturn nothing more dramatic than a child’s ranking of her favorite toys, the Gospel Christmas story seeks nothing less than the end of the world as presently ordered.
So as we enjoy the music, the lights, the piney smells and minty tastes, the presents, and all the other trappings of our current revision of Christmas, let us not forget that, in the Bible, the Christmas story is the beginning of a radically different plot, one that challenges us to live in love for enemies and strangers as much as relatives and friends. Let us heed the warning of Mary, who knew her son would lift up the lowly and fill the hungry but scatter the proud, send the rich away, and bring down kings. Let us remember that, in resurrection as in Ragnarok, the old world must die so that the new may arise.
The Rev. John Adams
Advent Prayer Offerings from the Diocese of Nebraska Creation Community
As the season of Advent dawns, I am considering how to “prepare the way” in my life for the celebration of Christ’s nativity, and more importantly, for his certain return at the end of days. I’m sure I am not alone in hoping to deeply engage with that work in the weeks to come. There is an unmistakable sense of urgency in the air just now, which seems to be partly about the season of Advent, but may be in even greater part about the hard challenges and wonderful possibilities set before Christ’s disciples at this moment in time. Christians all over the world are asking how to be more faithful disciples as we wait to see what the Holy Spirit has in mind for the future of Christ’s Church and the kingdom of God.
I read a compelling and sobering opinion piece this week about the power of liturgy, and the willing – even eager – capitulation of Christian people to the worship of a false, powerful and uniquely American god. The article, (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/17/opinion/sunday/escape-roy-moores-evangelicalism.html) by Molly Worthen, accounts how Americans are profoundly shaped by their constant diet of TV news. Worthen points out that the hours so many of us spend in front of the TV (and other media) not only informs us about current events, but–like church liturgy in its repetition, rhythm and presentation of a particular world view–shapes us as human beings and impacts what we believe about ourselves and the world around us.
Worthen’s critique is principally directed at conservative media outlets and the idolatries of white supremacy and consumer culture that are touted as gospel in a non-stop, 24-hour broadcast cycle. But to be sure, progressive media outlets just as reliably preach their own version of truth that is often equally inconsonant with the Gospel of Jesus. The point is not whether news from the left or right is “better,” but rather that spending hours of every day letting the media feed us whatever they wish, is imperiling our souls. While Worthen doesn’t say it, I will: if we spent as much time in church worship, Bible study, prayer and discipleship groups as we did watching cable news, our Church and our world – not to mention our individual human lives – would be entirely different.
Advent is all about readying ourselves for Christ’s coming into the world as he arrives to usher in an entirely different reality. The classic disciplines of the season – watching, waiting, praying and preparing – all point to the need we share to change how our lives are oriented in this here and now, so that when Christ comes, we are at the ready.
For me this year, “preparing the way” is going to include committing to spend more time every week in worship, study, prayer, and in service to the poor, than I do consuming any media version of news and opinion.
Molly Worthen quotes the philosopher James K. A. Smith from his book, Desiring the Kingdom, in her opinion piece: “We are, ultimately, liturgical animals because we are fundamentally desiring creatures. We are what we love.”
I can hardly think of a better time or season than this one to show what we love best, by worshipping aright.
Faithfully Yours in Christ –
+ Bishop Barker
It’s a pleasure to be with you this morning. My name is Heidi Haverkamp and I am an old seminary friend of Ben Varnum’s, here as a guest of your diocese because of a book and church program I wrote called Advent in Narnia. I wanted to do this program with my own parish and when I couldn’t find any materials out there to help me, I decided to write them myself. You may or may not be familiar with the young adult novel, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis – maybe because of the Disney movie made about ten years ago, if not the book itself.
It’s a sort of fairy tale about four children, a secret doorway, and an enchanted land with an evil queen and talking animals. But it’s also much more than that. C. S. Lewis wrote a children’s story of wonder and humor, but it’s also a story about serious Christian theology: about conversion, sin, love, and resurrection. He wrote it so subtly that you could read the whole book and never really notice, but when you read with the awareness that Lewis was trying to also tell a story about Jesus Christ, there is a whole new depth to this very simple book he wrote. Adults in my workshops have sometimes shed tears, getting to know this story in a new way – getting to know, really, the story of salvation in a new way.
C.S. Lewis did not set out to write an allegory of the gospels. He was a lonely professor at Oxford and certain images kept popping into his head: a faun with his arms full of packages, a lamp post in a forest, a queen on a sled, and a great lion. It was as he wrote down the story that it became what it was – as he put it later, a story about what it might be “if Christ had come to a world different than this one.”
The interesting thing for us to notice about Christ the King in Narnia, especially today, on Christ the King Sunday, is that Lewis saw Christ not as a human being, but as a lion – Aslan, the Son of God, whom Lewis calls the Emperor Across the Sea, is a member of the animal kingdom. In Christian Scripture, we are used to hearing about a Son of God being very much like us – born as a baby, living as a man, and truly dying, as a human being. But Aslan is different from us, which is not un-Biblical, but a different vantage point. Christ was human and God, like us and very different from us. Aslan is flesh and blood, but he’s not quite like the children. He loves them, he even cuddles them, but he is also fierce, and strange, and different from them, just as God is from us. Just as Christ is loving, but also: fierce, strange, and different from us – human, but also divine.
Mrs. Beaver in the story tells the children about Aslan at one point: “He’s not safe.” When I think of so many of the passages from Matthew we’ve heard this fall, and also many Advent readings, I think about this: Jesus is not always nice. Jesus is not always pleasant or patient. Jesus is fierce, he gets angry, and well, he is not exactly “safe.” Mrs. Beaver tells the children, “Aslan is not safe, but he’s good.” Jesus, our King, is human – he is not a lion – however, he is not safe. But he is good.
When we hear Matthew tell of the end of the world and Jesus dividing us according to how we have treated the most vulnerable of our neighbors, it’s a Jesus who is not safe, but who is good. It is a king who is not nice, but a king who loves us so much that he asks us to love one another, not just with words but with deeds.
If we truly have been transformed by our faith in Christ, we will show it in our lives. If we turn to him as our Lord and Savior, if we put our whole trust in his grace and love, if we seek and serve him in one another, our lives will also turn to the most needy in our communities. I look at my own life and I know there are things I do well and ways I could engage more – not to check off a box but to grow in love of my neighbor as well as in knowing Jesus in my life.
Christ is our King and he loves us more than we can imagine. My bishop likes to say, “Christ loves us just as we are, and yet he loves us too much to let us stay that way.” Christ dearly desires for us to love one another and not just to love – but to show our love in action through works of mercy. Christ came to save us, but also to make us part of his saving work. The Body of Christ is a body that cares for the bodies of others.
In Narnia, Aslan the Lion also comes to save his people, but also to make them a part of his mission. He loves the four children, but he also takes them very seriously – which is part of what makes it such a terrific children’s book. They are not just victims or little kids he swoops in and rescues – they also have a part to play. In fact, one of the most powerful scenes of the book is when Father Christmas finds the children and gives them gifts, on Aslan’s behalf. They aren’t your usual Christmas gifts – not toys, but tools. Several are actually weapons! A sword and shield, a bow and arrow, a horn to call for help, a dagger, and a healing cordial.
I think this is what God is trying to say to us in the gospel as well. You are loved more than you can ask or imagine. You are also called to be a serious disciple – children, too – to walk into situations of need, even of life and death, and to share Christ’s love and mercy with people who need it. Christ our King needs our hands and hearts, he needs us – requires us, even, although I realize that may make some who believe we are saved by faith alone, squirm – but I hear Christ here telling us that works of mercy are not optional for a life of faith in him.
The good news is that – like Father Christmas – God gives us what we need to do these works of mercy for one another. This is not superhuman stuff (although maybe visiting a prison is, that’s a real tough one) – but feeding the hungry, welcoming a stranger, caring for sick people, keeping a place in our hearts and lives for “the least of these.” God is not asking you to be someone you’re not, or to be a miserable person. God is asking you to be brave and become more of the person you already are, in loving your neighbor who is in dire need.
Maybe there is a gift in particular, that God has given YOU, for helping the least of his family. I invite you to think of that for a moment, or to ask God to uncover it for you if you are not sure.
How might Christ the King be calling you, to live out your baptismal covenant in this way?
What can a novel with talking animals teach us about any of this? I think C. S. Lewis taps into what Paul wrote in a letter to the Corinthians, that, “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” (1 Cor. 1:25) And “The cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor. 1:18) There is a mystery and foolishness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that we may need children’s books to help us grasp.
As we approach another Advent season, may you find joy, wonder, and foolishness enough to meet Christ the King in your life and in the lives of your neediest neighbors, for in so doing, you will meet Christ, again and again. Come, Lord Jesus.
Episcopalians throughout the diocese will celebrate a unique “Nebraska Liturgy” on Sunday, January 7, 2018 to mark the beginning of the diocesan sesquicentennial. In a letter to the diocese, the Right Reverend J. Scott Barker encouraged Nebraska Episcopalians “to raise their voice in beautiful common prayer to the glory of God in Christ, and in thanksgiving for this special place that we call home.”
The liturgy was created by a committee of clergy and laypersons, chaired by the Very Reverend Craig Loya, Dean of Trinity Cathedral, Omaha. “The committee’s goal was to create a liturgy that celebrated our unique and rich heritage as Nebraska Episcopalians,” explained Loya.
Designed to be flexible enough to meet the needs of congregations of all sizes, worship materials were developed to highlight both the sesquicentennial theme and the lectionary readings for the First Sunday after the Epiphany: The Baptism of our Lord. Members of the committee produced a collect, prayers of the people, blessing, and dismissal. Prayers for the day weave evocative historical and geographical images with the words of Nebraska authors and poets, including Willa Cather, Black Elk, John Neihardt, Ted Kooser, Mari Sandoz, Kent Haruf, and Charles Fort.
Nebraska hymn poet, Rae E. Whitney, composed a new hymn for the sesquicentennial celebration, “Sing God’s praise, Episcopalians!” Paired with a familiar tune (Stuttgart), the hymn is designed to be accessible for all congregations. An alternative version which can be sung throughout the sesquicentennial year is also available for general use.
For parishes with choirs or vocal ensembles, a newly published anthem by the Reverend William Bradley Roberts is available. The anthem, “Christ When for Us You Were Baptized” is downloadable from St. James Music Press (www.sjmp.com) at no cost, and parishes may make as many copies as needed. A downloadable recording is also available. “A common anthem allows us to create a virtual diocesan choral festival, with choirs singing together across Nebraska,” noted Marty Wheeler Burnett, Canon Precentor at Trinity Cathedral. “Although we are separated by vast distances, music draws us together and celebrates our common bond of service as Episcopal church musicians.”
All liturgical materials, including music, and detailed information are available online at http://q150.episcopal-ne.org/the-nebraska-liturgy.html. Parishes are encouraged to download these materials now and use them on January 7th. The website also includes all necessary information regarding copyright permissions, including a license to reproduce one recommended hymn from Wonder, Love, and Praise, a supplement to The Hymnal 1982. Email links are provided for anyone seeking assistance in accessing or using the materials.
“We are spread out over a large and beautiful state, and we follow Jesus in vastly different ministry contexts,” stated Loya. “Our hope is that the Nebraska liturgy fosters our sense of common identity and shared mission as we move together into God’s future.”
Marty Wheeler Burnett, D.Min.
Trinity Episcopal Cathedral
*Spoiler alert: The following contains extensive discussion of the plot of Blade Runner 2049.*
One of the fun things about having friends who watch the same kinds of movies you do is the dialogue that happens when two of you have different responses to the same film. Sometimes I love a movie and my conversational partner had some reservations (as with Wonder Woman, where two different interpretations of the killing of Ares within Diana’s moral arc led to my assertion that the movie had a good argument for best superhero film ever and my friend’s thought that it couldn’t claim much more than best DCEU movie). Sometimes we can argue about the reasons for a movie’s badness (would Suicide Squad have been most improved by more Joker or less?). Most interesting is when one person likes a movie for certain reasons and another dislikes it for a completely different set of reasons.
Such was the case in multiple discussions recently about Blade Runner 2049, the sequel to the 1982 film about a cop hunting and retiring (killing) rogue replicants (robots who look and mostly act perfectly human). My problems with the film mostly related to the plot, which I found complex to the point of distraction and including a number of points of which I simply could not make sense. (To offer one example of a plothole that still bugs me, at one time a replicant working for an evil tycoon is seen stealing evidence from an LAPD station after having killed the lab technician. Later, the same replicant is in the same station, having a conversation with the officer supervising the investigation to which the stolen evidence was relevant. The replicant murders the officer before using her biometrics to access the case files, and again there’s no sign that anyone is aware of or concerned by the felonies the replicant is committing within a police station. The only somewhat convincing explanation I’ve heard is the implication that the LAPD is entirely in the tycoon’s pocket and thus all his employees have immunity, but if that’s the case, he could get the information without leaving bodies behind.)
Three different friends argued that I was looking at the movie the wrong way, that even if I found the plot too confusing and open-ended, I should still be focusing on the film’s virtues. Technically, the film is gorgeous, with every frame’s look crafted to perfection, and any awards it gets for cinematography, production design, and visual effects will be well-deserved. Thematically, Blade Runner 2049 addresses that core human problem of othering: the replicants are not considered people despite being human in both appearance and behavior, and are socially (though not economically) the lowest of the low on earth and used as slave labor on other worlds. The protagonist, K, is a replicant who hunts and retires older model replicants that lack the obedience programmed into newer models, and we see him wrestling with the fact that he is an artificial intelligence who makes a living by destroying other AIs. His relationship with his boss at the LAPD is uncomfortably familiar to anyone who has tried, across a power differential, to cultivate genial personal relations with someone from a completely different background (racial, social, economic, or otherwise); even the best-intentioned question can prove extremely awkward. K has a romantic relationship with an entirely holographic AI; although she cannot physically interact with him, their romance is by far the most human interaction between any of the movie’s characters. A scene in an orphanage that bugged me because it ultimately serves no purpose in the plot and adds to an overlong runtime is, in fact, critical: while this huge warehouse is filled with unwanted human children being worked like slaves, K and the evil tycoon are racing (and the latter killing) to find the child of a replicant. Although believed to impossible, if a replicant bore a child it would upend the understanding that replicants were neither human nor alive but also give the tycoon the technology to allow his slave empire to reproduce and thus expand exponentially; the contrast in value between one non-human child and hundreds of human children is startling. My friends’ point is that, if I stop being so concerned with the trees of the plot and start attending to the thematic forest, I’ll find a whole lot to like in Blade Runner 2049.
I hope that those themes suggest many things about how we as Christians might identify and heed the humanity of the dehumanized, interact with our neighbors from radically different backgrounds, and critique the values our society puts on different sorts of human lives. But my purpose in relating these conversations is less about the themes of Blade Runner 2049 and more about the plot-focused way I initially approached it.
Like many folks who were raised in the church, my early exposure to the Bible was mostly through Sunday School stories, some of which get regularly addressed in adult church (Jesus walking on water or feeding five thousand) and some of which don’t, at least in my experience (Samson or David and Goliath). As you might imagine, I was the sort of child who poked at the holes in the story (if Adam and Eve had no daughters, how did their sons have children?), but I was also the sort of child who struggled to reconcile some of these stories with what my parents and priest told me was the main idea of the Bible: God loves us and wants us to love God and each other. How does wiping out almost all life on earth in a flood or slaughtering the inhabitants of Jericho fit into God’s love?
As I got older, such discrepancies became more evident in the behavior of Jesus’ followers. Just as I got so hung up on the murders in the LAPD that I missed the deeper themes of the film, in college I realized that, with regard to homosexuality, I was so focused on a few Bible verses (whose meaning is more ambiguous than I thought) that I was completely neglecting the ways that loving neighbors, strangers, and enemies might apply. In history classes, it became obvious that, although genocide does not fit with the command to love that weaves throughout the canon, crusaders, conquistadores, and cowboys had nonetheless seized on the plot point of Joshua’s conquest of the Promised Land to justify slaughtering the native populations of territory they coveted. Because loving God, one another, and oneself is very difficult in practice, we who give the Bible authority in our lives often find it easier to seize on plot details that might offer us exceptions to the commandment, and many reject Christianity entirely because they focus on such hateful stories rather than the overarching theme of love.
So as we read Holy Scripture, I wonder what we’re taking away from it. Are we modeling our lives around recurring themes like mercy, justice, and love? Are we taking our cue from a few plot points that make us feel most comfortable, at the risk of being distracted from the larger themes? Or are we rejecting the whole thing because we’re stuck in the plotholes?
The Rev. John Adams
Eternal God, our maker and redeemer, grant us, with all the faithful departed, the sure benefits of your Son’s saving passion and glorious resurrection that, in the last day, when you gather up all things in Christ, we may with them enjoy the fullness of your promises; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
ALLIANCE, St. Matthew’s
Kathryn Lyon Graham
ARAPAHOE, St. Paul’s
BASSETT, St. Mary’s
BEATRICE, Christ Church
BELLEVUE, Holy Spirit
Mary “Trudy” Conley
BLAIR, St. Mary’s
BROKEN BOW, St. John’s
CENTRAL CITY, Christ Church
CHARDON, Grace Church
Linda Bartlett Lonzo
M. Irene Robinson Perreten
Terry Ross Cogdill
COLUMBUS, Grace Church
COZAD, St. Christopher’s
CREIGHTON, St. Mark’s
CRETE, Trinity Memorial
DE WITT, St. Augustine’s
ELKHORN, St. Augustine
FALLS CITY, St. Thomas
FREMONT, St. James
GORDON, St. Mark’s
GRAND ISLAND, St. Stephen’s
HARRISBURG, Good Shepherd
HARVARD, St. John’s
HASTINGS, St. Mark’s Pro Cathedral
HOLDREGE, St. Elizabeth’s
HYANNIS, Calvary Church
KEARNEY, St. Luke’s
KIMBALL, St. Hilda’s
LEXINGTON, St. Peter’s
LINCOLN, Church of the Holy Trinity
Mary Jean Andrews
LINCOLN, St. David’s
LINCOLN, St. Mark’s on the Campus
LINCOLN, St. Matthew’s
Kathleen Mary Sewell
McCOOK, St. Alban’s
Michael C. Connely
Sherrel Lou Adams
Nancy S. Haller
MITCHELL, Holy Apostles
Julie Ann Edwards
MULLEN, St. Joseph’s
NEBRASKA CITY, St. Mary’s
NORFOLK, Trinity Church
Charles F. Parks
Charles Robert Hales
Wanda M. Mosier
Mahlon (Rudy) Nuttelmann
NORTH PLATTE, Our Savior
Byron O. Neiman
Merle F. Axford
Barbara Ann Johnson
Betty R. Levine
Dean G. Candea
Beatrice M Ugai
Catherine “Katy” Varicak
OGALLALA, St. Paul’s
OMAHA, All Saints
OMAHA, Church of the Resurrection
Virginia M. Fulton
Craig Thomas Reisser
OMAHA, St. Andrew’s
Lorene “Rene” Reed
James L. Johnson Sr.
OMAHA, St. Martin of Tours
OMAHA, Trinity Cathedral
OSHKOSH, St. George’s
PAPILLION, St. Martha’s
Logan Edward Sueper
Betty B. Proctor
PLATTSMOUTH, St. Luke’s
RUSHVILLE, St. Mary’s Holly
John Frank Wheeler
Kathryn Lyon Graham
SCOTTSBLUFF, St. Francis
SEWARD, St. Andrew’s
SIDNEY, Christ Church
TECUMSEH, Grace Church
VALENTINE, St. John’s
Priests Deceased Since Last Council
The Rev. Lyle F. Martin
The Rev. Phillip E. Chapman
The Rev. Don Overton
Deacons Deceased Since Last Council
(The following is Rev. Mavis Hall’s presentation of the Bishop’s Cross at Annual Council to The Very Reverend Catherine Scott.)
I have the privilege of introducing this year’s clergy Bishop’s Cross award recipient. This person is someone I have looked up to as a mentor and friend for many years. Someone who helped me navigate the ups and downs of the ordination process, offering me invaluable encouragement and advice, born from personal experience.
Quiet and unassuming, with a sly wit, this person has been a valuable asset to the Diocese of Nebraska for over 20 years. Arriving here in 1995, this person first served at St. Matthew’s Church in Lincoln, and then moved on to serve as the Rector of St. Luke’s in Plattsmouth and as the Ministry Development Coordinator for the Diocese, working tirelessly to provide congregations across the Diocese with the tools and opportunities to seek new ways of expanding their ministries.
This person then went on to serve the Church of the Holy Trinity in Lincoln and finally as the first female Dean of the Pro-Cathedral in Hastings.
Over the years she has served as a ground-breaking role model for all clergy, following her heart into ministry at a time when women were just beginning to be ordained and faithfully following Christ’s call throughout her career. And by doing so she touched innumerable lives over the years.
Most importantly, she has been a loving partner to her husband Bob, a supportive mother to her children, Nick, Christy, and Tom, and a doting grandmother.
I am pleased to present this year’s clergy Bishop’s Cross Award recipient, The Very Reverend Catherine Scott.
(The following is Fr. Benedict Varnam’s presentation of the Bishop’s Cross at Annual Council to Sandra Squires.)
Right Reverend Sir; members of the Annual Council; friends and family and visitors;
One of the greatest privileges that clergy experience is to have a set of tiny windows into lives that are so richly lived by the people in the communities we serve.
I am very happy to assist Bishop Barker in presenting here someone living that kind of rich life, who has truly taken up the commitments of our baptismal promises, especially the great love of neighbor that we commit to in our vows, to seek and serve Christ in all persons and to respect the dignity of every human being.
When Bishop Barker invited me to assist him in presenting this year’s recipient, he not only reminded me urgently of the secrecy of the award – and the great tradition of building only slowly to the revelation of who will receive it this year – but he also wrote about this year’s recipient in particular, that this person
“is and has been an extraordinarily faithful servant of Jesus and the Episcopal Church in innumerable capacities and over many, many years.”
But let’s try to enumerate the innumerable, just a bit.
Let me begin by saying this recipient is a faithful member of our congregation at St Augustine’s.
- This is someone whose life of prayer and presence at worship are visible and steady.
- This is someone who clearly cares about the people in our church family, and listens well over the conversations at coffee hour or after an event.
- This is someone who is faithful in encouraging others, in celebrating the joyous, in comforting the hurting, and in serving as a champion for those facing real challenge.
- This is someone who always notices the visitor or stranger in our church, and makes time to say hello and learn more about them.
This person sees the needs in our community, often bringing to my attention someone who is quietly struggling and might need a visit. And I have also seen the impact of our recipient’s own work offering comfort and support to members of our church and members of our diocese. This is faithful companionship in the holiest tradition of Christian community: to walk with others through the hardest parts of their journeys.
I have also rarely seen someone this dedicated to personal growth and study. Although possessing several degrees in a rich field of study, this person continues to read, to attend adult formation studies, and to reflect with me and others on the texts from Sunday, the content of sermons, and books, DVD lessons, and other work.
Our recipient also understands that there is a natural political life to any group of organized people, but who has been able to look at that political life within the church, and see in it not a place for gossip, not a possibility for self-promotion, but rather the opportunity for us to do more together, as Christ’s Body the Church, than we could accomplish as individual persons or individual parishes.
That has been true in our parish; that has been true in our diocese; that has been true in a professional career; and that has been true in work done with national groups.
Let me speak about our recipient’s professional career, spent in a field that was dedicated to others. This work celebrated diversity, and also engaged it honestly, asking hard questions about who was not part of the conversation and why. This work sought to help those who held power and authority understand the realities of those who did not.
The field of study was education, and our recipient holds a Doctorate in it, with special attention to older youth and adults with disabilities.
Throughout a career in education, this work also included teaching on special education administration, women’s studies, Native American studies, and human relations.
It is to her credit that she did not remain satisfied merely with teaching others on these topics, but also spent time challenging the enrollment structure at her own university, calling into question how they might ensure that opportunities to take up teaching as a career were presented in a way that promoted a diverse student body to be trained as the future leaders of higher education.
Suffice to say that her professional work was done with a set of commitments that we honor within the church: that Christ’s Body has many members, all of whom need one another.
But if you need further clues, let me tell you where you might have glimpsed her tireless, effective work closer at hand:
- Our recipient has steadily been a member of this Annual Council, offering her voice to the conversations we have here.
- Our recipient is an avowed member of the Daughters of the King, and regularly works with others throughout the Greater Omaha area.
- Our recipient has served in the Women’s Ministries of the Episcopal Church, including recently as a president for ECW of Province VI, and as a member of the Episcopal Church’s delegation this year to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.
- And our recipient has faithfully served on the board of the United Thank Offering, currently as its president, in which role she not only convenes international conversations covering everything from creating a culture of gratitude to assigning particular grants, but also spent her time this week gathering table stands from St Augustine’s to borrow for this Council, so the resources of UTO wouldn’t have to be spent buying them up.
Our recipient is Sandra Squires, who fills her free time with gathering others into community and fellowship.
Our recipient is Sandra Squires, who made the work of her career the needs of those our world would rather not slow down long enough to consider.
Our recipient is Sandra Squires, who has given her time, talent, and being to a generation of young people who have grown up in this diocese.
Our recipient is Sandra Squires, who has over and over again taken up the responsibility of positions in our diocese, province, and national church in order to move us closer to God’s coming Kingdom.
And our recipient is Sandra Squires, who told me mere days ago that she knew long ago that she could do more ministry as a layperson than if she had become a member of the clergy.
She loves God; she loves neighbors:
Friends, please join me in honoring the ministries of Sandra Squires, well-deserving of this year’s Bishop’s Cross.