Bishop Anderson gets Diocese moving, sees reservation needs

By Margaret Figert – Todd County Tribune – Vol.65, No. 48
Wednesday, September 4, 1985

WINNER – It’s 9:00 a.m. on a Monday morning at Sargent’s Café in Winner.

The Rt. Rev. Craig B. Anderson, new Episcopal Bishop in South Dakota, has been discussing goals and plans for the Episcopal Diocese in South Dakota and for Christians on South Dakota’s Indian reservations.

The first part of this interview appeared in the issue of August 21, 1985.

“By being physically located in Sioux Falls, Bishop” I continued my inquiry, “you are in a unique position.  It seems you can avoid not seeing the forest for the trees … and be an administrator but still able to trust the people who report to you?”

“True,” Bp. Anderson responded.  “We have seven regions, seven deanerys.  I want to strengthen the regional deanerys.  I want to be able to pick up the telephone and say ‘I want to come out to see you’ or to ask ‘What’s happening?  Tell me what the problems are.  Who’s having them?  What particular things?’  I need that.  So, that’s another thing I want to work on this year … communication in terms of really having a pulse on things and being able to respond quickly.”

“There’s a need,” he continued, “to show folks that the Church is really able to respond and not get bogged down in all the politics or paperwork.  In some cases, that’s happened.  We need to pick up on folks we’ve lost or who are unchurched.  I’m going to be striking an Evangelism Commission.  Once I finished the institutional reviews, I’m going to review every program in the Diocese and ask the same questions: What’s your mission, what’s your ministry?  If you don’t have one, then either find out where the needs are or cease to be.  We’re a Diocese that can’t afford a bunch of Lone Rangers running around.  We need to work together.  The problems are too big for any one individual to say ‘I’ve got the answers.’  It’s got to be a team effort.  That’s who we are as a church anyway.  It’s already started and that’s good.  There’s some good indications like TIME so I’m encouraged.”

The Diocese’s TIME campaign, the Bishop explained, stands for ‘To Increase Ministry Effectiveness’ and is an attempt to strengthen church leadership, both ordained and lay.

“Coming here frees,” he said, “I look at the fact that we’ve lost fifteen priests in the last fifteen years, a number of churches have closed and membership is down.  I’m firmly convinced that strong lay leadership is dependent upon strong, educated, committed, ordained leadership.”

The Bishop added that a goal seeking $750,00 to fund TIME’s goals was surpassed after South Dakota’s Episcopalians pledged over $1,000,000 this summer to help train and pay ministers of God’s Word.

“I’m excited about that,” he continued, “because the money will help us train people to help solve today’s problems.  I’m convinced that no Diocesan program will replace local effective leadership.  Where there’s a strong priest, there seems to be a strong parish.  Where there isn’t, the reverse seems to be true.  I also think it’s raised our morale.  It’s really stirred some attention outside the Diocese.  You know, people are saying ‘In South Dakota?  They raised over $1,000,000?  Who could believe that?’”

“I understand there’s been some changes at St. Mary’s School at Springfield?” I asked.

“We’ve been at St. Mary’s a year now and it will take more time there.  To rush in and change things prematurely, all that does is hurt and anger people.  I think if we talk … that’s the beauty of what I’ve learned from the Dakota/Lakota people … you talk it for awhile.  You don’t have to decide tomorrow.  There’s the right amount, the fullness of time, as Scripture says.  Its sort of … nnnnnow’s the time.  Not two months ago, but now.  It’s taken us this long at St. Mary’s and that’s been good.”

“Do you perceive yourself to be a good listener?” I asked.

“I think I am,” Bishop Anderson responded.  “I’ve tried to listen these first six months and tried to provide the time at parishes after services and confirmations to say ‘Okay, I’m here.  What are your questions?  Your concerns?’  I’ve heard lots of things.  I’ve been able to act on some things.  It’s been fun.  If I can ask questions and then listen to what people are saying … so far it seems to be working.  The honeymoon is still on though.  That’ll end.  I’ve heard lots from lots of different folks … not just Diocesan and congregational problems but personal kinds of things.  The Church is a political beast and there are all kinds of hurts within the Church that dog us.  The same kinds of games played in tribal politics are played in church politics.  That’s because we’re political persons whether we want to admit it or not.  Everybody is a politician.  That’s part of what it is to be a human being.  But, in the Church, we’re called to transcend that.  We’re called to say ‘Hey, there’s a higher good that we call service to God’”

“Well put,” I said.  “Politics is, really, little more than coercion.  Do I hear you saying that we have no right to force our will onto others … that our responsibility is to make what we believe in so attractive that people will forsake what they participate in …”

“… and want to be a part of it,” the Bishop finished.  “It’s more like, as the say down South, ‘You’ll catch more folks with a pint of wine than with a big stick.’  I think the Church ought to be smart enough to say the times we want to use that as a church is in addressing the tribal corruption.  Let’s not forget, however, that sometimes we participate in the same things.  That’s not to say that we, in some way, falsify.  If people could look to the churches and say ‘There’s a group of people who really care about one another’ and ‘They really are concerned about things in the community, I want to be a part of that.’  In lots of churches we’re a long way from that.”

“Doesn’t it involve an element of conquering?” I asked the Bishop.  “Doesn’t good always defeat what is evil … because that’s what makes it good … and the evil will cling to itself and fight back before trying to destroy both good and itself?  Evil will kill as it killed Christ.”

“That’s right,” Bishop Anderson nodded.  “There’s a Good and an Evil and St. Paul writes about that very eloquently when he talks about the cosmic battle that goes on.  H. Richard Niebuhr, one of my favorite theologians, said there are five relationships between Christ and culture.  One of the ways that Christians have historically related being a Christian and living in society is to say ‘Christ against culture.’  They say ‘I want nothing to do with the culture.’  We have some who have gone off into their own colonies and don’t want anything to do with the world, want to live by themselves and not be tainted by the world.”

“Another is the ‘Christ of culture’ model,” he continued, “which is a secular religion that sounds Christian but if you really push it, it’s someone using Christianity to get political power.  It’s the stuff politicians are made of in terms of ‘Sure, I’m a Christian and I want to have one nation under God’ and then you ask them ‘Well, what really does that mean?’ and what it means is Americanism, not Christianity.”

“Nationalism?” I asked.

“Yes.  Nationalism,” he replied.  “That’s when religion is co-opted to serve the culture and becomes a pawn of the culture.  Those are two extremes and there are shades in between.”

“The model that I’d like to see on the reservations,” Bp. Anderson said, “is a Christ-converting culture … taking culture seriously enough to have dialogue with it, to ask the questions but then to say, ‘Here are some ideas  Here are some ways to live.  Let us call you into that.’ … not to change structures of government but to change the people within the structures so that they will more manifest that which Christ taught.  I think that’s what we’re after, not conversion in the sense that we’re gonna run around and make everyone an Episcopalian.  I don’t mean that, although that would be nice.  But more like asking ‘When you make a decision, as a tribal official, what guides you?  Do you have a code of ethics or something that you follow?  Or is it just self-interest?  Is it because you want to enhance your family?  Or is it really for the good of the total people?  Even if it may be an unpopular decision, are you willing to make it because it’s right?’  I sense that, in most cases, that doesn’t happen.”

“How do we get folks there?” he continued.  “Well, we have to tell them that sometimes its okay to be a martyr.  If people really want to change some things, it’s probably going to take a few tribal martyrs, a few church leaders who are martyrs.  Not that they’ll get nailed but that they’ll get nailed a different way.”

“The true lover generally suffers dreadfully,” I offered.

“That’s right,” B. Anderson said.  “Because it’s a kind of sacrificial kind of thing that goes beyond self and taking care of my family or my people or my clan.  And that’s hard in a system that is bred to ‘get what you can get, as much as you can get, even if you don’t need it, ask for it anyway because they owe it to you’ sort of mentality.”

“Do you believe in the family being the basic unit of society?” I asked then.

“Absolutely,” the Bishop said.  “Always has been.  Always will be.  Even though the family is experiencing crisis right now, I think out of this crisis it will probably be strengthened.  There’s already a trend in that direction.  Families are under incredible pressure these days, especially the nuclear family.  The extended family can help but … by the way, that’s one of the interesting things.  I think we have more potential for the extended family in this Diocese than others.  In Los Angeles or New York City, there’s no opportunity for that.”

“It’s been one of the traditions,” I suggested.

“In the case of a widowed elderly parent, for instance, taking them in to one’s home may be a right and righteous thing to do.  But in some places, a child will grow up and even get married but the parents can’t seem to let go.  Then the child and his or her spouse and their children live with them which stunts the emotional growth and maturity of that new family.  Letting go is one of the inevitables of life.”

“The tendency of the extended family,” he said, “pushed to the extreme, is for the extended family to become idolatrous.  As you begin to try to live through your children, you take control.  In terms of the reservation, it’s worship of the family.  The other extreme, obviously, is being cut off and not having any sense of that.  The Church, at its best, in using the terms ‘brothers and sisters in Christ’ is an extended family.  We’re adopted as children of God.  By virtue of our baptism into a family, we share the name ‘Christian’.  The thing that’s nice about it is that you don’t have to get caught up in all the sticky kinds of blood relationships and you can be honest.  It’s a chosen kind of relationship.  That’s what the Church is at its best.”

“And we can maintain our own individual identities and each have a goal?” I asked.

“ … each have a different ministry,” he nodded.  “That’s the goal.  There are different stages of faith development.  Some Churches are a little further along while others are still growing.  But that’s what makes it fun.  It always changes because membership always changes.  It’s a fluid, dynamic thing.  It’s never arriving, once and for all.”

“What about outreach … getting new members to come?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, “that’s why I want this Evangelism Commission.  I’m hoping that in the next twenty years, we can double the membership of the Episcopal Church in South Dakota.  All that would take is for every Episcopalian to bring one new member to the Church.  That really excites me because there’s so much potential in this Diocese for that.  In many communities, this really hasn’t been tapped.  A lot of folks are afraid of evangelism.  They really are.  It scares them.  It’s like a fear of the unknown.  If we can talk about it from the standpoint of it being consistent with who we are in the Church, I believe it’ll work.  I worked with the Evangelism Commission with the National Church and there’s some neat stuff we can use here.”

“The major thing that went on last year,” Bishop Anderson finished eating and leaned back in his chair, “is that I made a commitment to visit every congregation in the Diocese.  I’m almost finished.  I’m tired but of the 130 congregations, by the end of August, I will have been to every one.  The review isn’t complete as I still have another month of visitations to do, but I sense that the Church is very strong in parts of the Diocese and in other parts it is needing some help.”

“One of the facts of life facing us is that many small towns are dying.  And that means the Church is dying with the town.  I talked with the Lutheran and the Roman Catholic bishops and one thing we’re wrestling with is what to do in those situations.  Maybe it would make sense to combine some resources.  Rather than heating three separate church buildings all winter, maybe it would be better to have one building and have all three denominations use it,” he suggested.

“More importantly,” Bishop Anderson concluded, “how do you minister to the persons in a town that’s dying?  How do you minister to farmers who are going bankrupt?  If the Church can’t, in some way, address that, then it’s not really being a Church.”

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