Pastoral Letter to the Episcopal Diocese of Eau Claire
by Bishop Jay Lambert for reading or distribution
on the Second Sunday of Lent, March 1, 2015
Dear Family and Friends of the Diocese of Eau Claire,
On Wednesday, February 11, my wife, May Ruth, and I and Mike Greene, Dean of Christ Church Cathedral in Eau Claire, went to Nashotah House. We spent the day with Chad Gandiya, Bishop of Harare, Zimbabwe. We explored the prospect of our dioceses entering into a meaningful relationship. It was a spirit filled time that was probably my most important day as Bishop of Eau Claire.
It is strange that two dioceses that are so different could have things in common. For six years the government of Zimbabwe confiscated all of the Anglican Church of Harare’s church buildings only to return them in 2013. A few years ago Eau Claire nearly disappeared as a diocese and came close to financial implosion. You are changed when you lose things, and then God chooses to give them back to you. The experience teaches you to be thankful and to move as the Spirit calls. Eau Claire has about 20 priests and 10 deacons. We have 2000 parishioners. Harare has 80 priests, no deacons, and 1 million parishioners. Bishop Chad and I believe the Spirit has bonded us as companions. Mike Greene drove Chad back to Chicago. Mike reported that all Bishop Chad could do was talk about May Ruth and me and the companion relationship. Meanwhile, May Ruth and I cannot contain our joy over what took place.
There are four elements that I foresee happening over the next year (March 2015 through February 2016.) Here they are:
1. May Ruth, Mike, and I plan to travel to Zimbabwe in June. We will be there for ten days, especially during the Bernard Mizeki Festival that takes place this year on June 20. Bernard Mizeki was martyred in Zimbabwe in 1896 and is Harare’s patron saint. This is an exploratory trip to understand Harare and its people.
2. Bishop Chad wants May Ruth to work with the Harare Mothers’ Union (a very powerful equivalent to our ECW) to assist the Union, a university in Harare, and diocesan nurses to develop community nursing throughout the diocese. He also wants her connected to diocesan orphanages. May Ruth is a Nurse Practitioner in Women’s Health. As an R.N. she worked many years in Pediatric and Family clinics. She currently goes into homes, gives physicals, and counsels people on medications. Besides her work experience, Bishop Chad sees May Ruth’s being a bishop’s spouse as important, but also her age and general demeanor as a listener are critical factors in making her effective. May Ruth is thrilled about Bishop Chad’s invitation! I asked Chad about starting a medical mission to Harare. He was not interested. He preferred relationships to build ongoing work similar to what May Ruth could offer. The orphanage work is critical. Most of the children’s parents died of AIDS. 30% of Zimbabwe’s population is HIV positive.
3. Steven Peay, Dean of Nashotah, and Bishop Chad are planning to have four priests from Harare spend two years at Nashotah. The seminary will waive its tuition. I will be asking individual members of the Diocese of Eau Claire or seeking support from foundations to donate funds for room and board. These four priests will be asked to spend considerable time in Eau Claire, so our members will have the opportunity to know them. The priests will start at Nashotah in September and complete their program in June of 2016. They will return to Harare and be the new faculty of a satellite seminary of Nashotah House for the formation of Zimbabwe priests.
4. Beginning in 2016, the Diocese of Eau Claire will plan to budget funds (around $10,000 per year) for select clergy and laity to travel to Harare and possibly to Haiti where we have had an ongoing relationship for decades. A subcommittee of the Standing Committee and Executive Council will choose whom to send to Harari. Some people will need the funds; others may have the means to pay their way. Those traveling to Harare will do so because of skills in ministry, nursing, education, agriculture, and other aspects of life that will foster relationships and an exchanging of skills.
Having a relationship with Harare is ambitious but workable. In financial terms it is not expensive for our diocesan budget. It in no way negates or diminishes our work in Haiti. I served over 20 years in the Diocese of Milwaukee. During that time Milwaukee had companion relationships first with Nicaragua, then Ireland, and finally Egypt while continuing to support Haiti. Still the Harare initiative is breathtaking in its possibilities. As your bishop I see the disconnect between what the Spirit is doing and realizing that this will take a time of adjustment for our diocesan family.
On February 14, I proposed to our Leadership Council of Standing Committee and Executive Council that we enter a probationary companion diocese relationship with the Diocese of Harare. This would last until the November 2016 diocesan convention. By that time our relationship with Harare will have developed or failed to develop to a point where we will understand that we should either be officially companions or end the association. The Leadership Council was unanimous in its approval and wants our diocese to understand that this is not an outreach project. It is a mutual relationship to engage in sharing ideas and learning from each other. This connection is to be of benefit to Eau Claire as much as it is to Harare.
Currently no one has a companion relationship with Harare. I believe the Holy Spirit wants to resolve this with a strange remedy. It puts together one of the smallest dioceses of the Episcopal Church with a diocese that alone is half the size of the entire Episcopal Church! Perhaps together we will live into Jesus’ story of the mustard seed. The smallest of seeds grows into a beautiful tree. By God’s grace all things are possible! With my love and best wishes, I am,
Your brother in Christ,