Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Unchurched Corner of the Country

The Seattle area people are known for being non-church goers. Frankly, one of the main reasons is because on the weekends people are not inclined to spend several hours inside if there is any possible chance of being in the incredible outdoors skiing, hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, boating, kayaking, sailing, fishing, clamming, crabbing, camping or backpacking.

A few of us do attend church on a regular basis but we are clearly the minority. In fact, rarely is church membership ever brought up in conversation. However, even in unchurched Seattle, a couple of news items caught my attention.

1. Baptism. I loved this. A mass baptism was scheduled for Seattle's Alki Beach last week but a single baby seal had other ideas. The Mars Hill Church had planned a baptism by immersion of 200 folks in freezing Puget Sound. The Seattle Parks Department asked them to move up the beach because a baby seal was snuggled into the sand at the very spot where 1000 people were expected to gather. Mamma seals typically leave their babies unattended for a time period while they search for food. The mammas tell the babies to "stay put" and "don't move, no matter what" until they return. The babies must be left untouched or the mother will reject them. As it turned out, the baby was retrieved by mom so the baptism went ahead as scheduled.

UPDATE: picture in September 19 Seattle PI
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God's little darling creature, a baby seal on Alki yesterday again!
Credit: Gilbert W. Arias/Seattle Post-Intelligencer

2. New Presiding Bishop. To be honest, I have some issues with the Mars Hill Church. The pastor is somewhat of a local celebrity and he is evidently charismatic and can deliver a barn burner of a sermon. I have to hand it to him for attracting a lot of new members. The church is what we call a fundamentalist mega-church. But, you guessed it, I am not thrilled with his positions about gay people and women. In fact, he criticized my denomination. The Episcopal Church of the U.S. recently elected a woman to be its national leader, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori. Actually, she is from the Seattle area and decided to become a priest while living in the Pacific Northwest. She is a scientist---a marine biologist by education. I have read her words and I find her to be an inspiring, exciting and intelligent Christian with great vision. But the pastor of Mars Hill Church, Mark Driscoll, said about her election:

"If Christian males do not man up soon, the Episcopalians may vote a fluffy bunny rabbit as their next bishop to lead God's men," Driscoll sneered.

So you see, I thought it was particularly funny that a baby seal disrupted the plans of Mars Hill Church after Driscoll insulted our marine biologist Presiding Bishop!

3. Our new Bishop. I am also pleased about this. The Diocese of Olympia which is the Episcopal Diocese of Western Washington chose a new bishop, Rev. Gregory Rickel. He was consecrated on Saturday. The priest of my church likes him a lot. I was not a part of the drawn out process towards choosing a new bishop but some of my friends were involved. Evidently, we had good choices to lead us but the final decision appears to be positively accepted by everyone. Again, I have read his words, believe that Christ is in his heart, and am excited about the direction he will take us.

Originally, Rickel is from a trailor park in Arkansas. He was raised Methodist but attended a Roman Catholic high school in Little Rock. The principal of his school questioned him about becoming a Catholic priest. His response was he liked girls. He came to us from Austin, Texas where he served as rector for a predominately African American church and turned it into a thriving multi-cultural congregation. And yes, our church is dealing with issues surrounding homosexuality, too. We have had a couple of churches withdraw from our Diocese because there is a gay bishop 2000 miles away in New Hampshire. Ironically, the churches that do this then align themselves with conservative Anglican bishops from either South America or Africa. Some of these guys are ignoring the poverty and diseases, particularly AIDS, of the people right under their noses. It just seems so ridiculous to me. Why can't we get off this gay issue which is dividing our country, pitting church against church, and causing separation within the Anglican community? I have actually read quotes of some of these conservative Anglican bishops who have said gay people are an abomination and are not fit to live.

Luckily, our new bishop does not have a problem with gay people and in fact, is accepting of individual priests doing same sex blessings. A big concern to him is how to attract young men and women into a denomination that has lost membership over the years. Another concern of his is how we are causing global climate change and how as Christians, we are called to be stewards of the earth and not its destroyers. I do believe he has some exciting and spirit-filled ideas to attract the unchurched Pacific Northwesterner into church. Typically, the dean of St. Mark's and the Bishop of the Diocese become powerful local celebrities. St. Mark's, the cathedral church, is prominent in local Seattle culture.

And I think Bishop Rickel who is also young and charismatic just might give Mark Driscoll a run for his money!


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St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral guards Seattle (box on the horizon)