Katherine Jefferts Schori’s invitation to Nashotah House stirs Hornet’s Nest
Three students request her appearance results in major public relations nightmare
By Mary Ann Mueller
VOL Special Correspondent
NASHOTAH, WISCONSIN — Little did three Nashotah House seminary students realize last October, when they approached the theological school’s Board of Trustees to humbly request that an invitation be issued to Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to “come and see”, that it would ultimately result in two revered bishops either out right quitting the Board or distancing themselves from The House.
At that time, Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) Archbishop Robert Duncan and ACNA Bishop Jack Iker (IV Fort Worth) were in Nairobi attending GAFCON II while Nashotah’s trustees were discerning the students’ desire to see the current Episcopal Presiding Bishop come to The Episcopal Church’s .crown jewel of Anglo-Catholic seminary training.
The first inkling that something was amiss came Tuesday when Nashotah Board Chairman Bishop Daniel Martins (XI Springfield) blogged in his Moving Diagonallydaily journal, “Processed a stack of emails on a range of subjects: youth pilgrimage, Nashotah House, clergy pastoral care, etc.”
The Bishop’s Wednesday blog read: “Spoke by phone while still at home with my colleague, the Vice-Chair of the Nashotah House board of trustees, about an emergent matter that affects the House. … Took a call from another member of the Nashotah board concerning the same matter.” The Vice-Chair of the Nashotah House Board of Trustees is retired Bishop Keith Ackerman (VIII Quincy) and who is now currently vicar at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in the ACNA Diocese of Fort Worth which is headed by Bishop Iker. Retired Bishop William Wantland (IV Eau Claire) is also an assisting bishop in the same ACNA diocese.
Thursday, Bishop Iker e-mailed his Diocese of Fort Worth clergy: “BISHOP IKER HAS RESIGNED AS A TRUSTEE on the Nashotah House Board, where he has served for the past 21 years. This action was taken in protest of the Dean’s invitation to the Presiding Bishop of TEC to be a guest preacher in the seminary’s chapel.”
Citing the lawsuits initiated by her against this Diocese, Bishop Iker notified the Board that he “could not be associated with an institution that honors her.” Similarly, Bishop Wantland has sent notification that he “will not take part in any functions at Nashotah” nor continue “to give financial support to the House as long as the present administration remains.” He is an honorary member of the Board (without a vote) and a life member of the Alumni Association.
As an Episcopal canon lawyer, Bishop Wantland has taught Canon Law at Nashotah. Through the years, he has frequented The House many times addressing the Southeastern Wisconsin American Anglican Council (SEWAAC) at Nashotah or attending commencement exercises, going to ACNA meetings, or participating in other scheduled events. In addition he has been honored with an honorary degree to augment his several earned degrees.
Bishop Wantland is not the only Episcopal or Anglican bishop to have a Doctor of Divinity-honoris causa from Nashotah. Some other members of the club include: Former presiding bishops John Hines, John Allin, and Frank Griswold. Katharine Jefferts Schori is not on that list. In addition, recent archbishops of Canterbury Michael Ramsey, Robert Runcie, George Carey, and Rowan Williams also hold honorary degrees from The House. Through the years many Nashotah’s Sons-of-The-House have risen to the episcopate — Daniel Herzog (VIII Albany); Charles Jenkins (X Louisiana); William Lambert (VI Eau Claire); Jeffrey Lee (XII Chicago); Edwin Leidel (I Eastern Michigan); Wallis Ohl (II TEC Fort Worth Provisional); Keith Whitmore (V Eau Claire); Arthur Vogel (V West Missouri); and Keith Ackerman (VIII Quincy).
In addition to Nashotah’s Vice Chairman, Bishop Ackerman, several other TEC and ACNA bishops are on the Nashotah Board including: Nashotah’s Board Chairman Bishop Martins, Nashotah’s Dean Bishop Salmon, Bishop William Love (IX Albany); Bishop Dabney Smith (V Southwest Florida); Bishop Russell Jacobus (VII Fond du Lac); Bishop Jack Iker; Archbishop Robert Duncan, and Bishop Mark Lawrence (XIV South Carolina); Also Bishop Wantland and two other senior bishops — Bishop James Montgomery (IX Chicago); and Bishop Donald Parsons (VI Quincy) enjoy an honorary trustee status. Bishops Ackerman, Duncan; Iker, Lawrence, and Wantland have all been deposed by Katharine Jefferts Schori for either realigning with other Anglican jurisdictions or disassociating from The Episcopal Church and taking the diocese with them. On Thursday Bishop Iker’s e-mail went viral on the blogsphere. It was met with predictable Internet sniping and snarling. Within a short period of time, the Anglican media sniffed out the story. Before going to bed, a tired Bishop Martins’ blogged: “Well, this was ‘a day.’ Among my many extra-curricular hats, I chair the board of Nashotah House, my seminary alma mater. A tempest has arisen from the news that the seminary has extended an invitation to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to visit the House and preach at the Eucharist for the feasts of SS Philip & James on May 1, and she has accepted. So I was on the phone and responding to emails most of the day. In the midst of it all, I did manage to finish laying out the liturgy leaflets for next week’s clergy retreat.”
The “tempest” Bishop Martins was referring to is that Katharine Jefferts Schori, the very liberal, theologically-challenged and dictatorial female Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, would be coming to town, and that news doesn’t sit well with the theologically conservative and Anglo-Catholic mindset which has set Nashotah House apart from the rest of the more liberal TEC seminaries. The blogsphere was starting to have a field day with the breaking tempest and its unfolding story.
Just before midnight Friday, a very tired Bishop Martins, who had been fielding calls and e-mails all day long from the media — including Virtueonline (www.virtueonline.org) — blogged: “Still dealing with a barrage of emails and social media material regarding the Nashotah House situation. I’m experiencing the special agony of leadership, which lies not in the necessity of opposing one’s enemies, but in the inevitability of disappointing one’s friends … Both Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer were victims of the angst today … My introversion was thoroughly taxed and I hadn’t had lunch yet … Spent the better part of the next three hours, when I wasn’t dealing with emails, working on a written response to several Nashotah board members regarding a difficult and sensitive issue.”
The Springfield bishop told VOL that he was surprised at the “extent” of the widening tempest, although he “expected some to be troubled by the invitation to the Presiding Bishop.”
There are a total of 33 clerical (including 12 bishops) and lay members on the Nashotah House Board of Trustees which has been charged since 1847 “to hold Nashotah House in trust for the service of the Church, to oversee, set the mission, and the vision of the institution”, while “erecting, maintaining and conducting a College of learning and piety.” Seven trustees are honorary having voice but no vote, but offering a wealth of experience, insight and wisdom of age to their younger colleagues.
For about a year Nashotah House has engaged in a special Thursday evening preaching series, inviting a wide variety of noted Episcopal and Anglican clergy to share their own theological bent and spirituality with the Wisconsin seminarians. This has lead to deep theological discussions and a greater search for the truth, while affording the seminarians a broader understanding of the wideness, depth and heights of the Anglican stream of Christianity.
Some of the visiting preachers have included: Bishop Carol Gallagher (Southern Virginia Suffragan); newly-named Canterbury Cathedral Preacher Tory Baucum; Northern Michigan Bishop-elect Rayford Ray; Bishop Martin Field (VIII West Missouri); Toronto’s Wycliffe College Canon George Sumner; as well as the Nashotah Board Chair and Vice Chair. While on tap for the coming months include: Bishop William Franklin (XI Western New York); the ACNA Bishop Foley Beach (I Anglican Diocese of the South); ACNA’s founding Archbishop Robert Duncan; Bishop Greg Brewer (IV Central Florida); General Theological Seminary Dean Kurt Dunkle; Bishop Gary Lillibridge (IX West Texas); and now … Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.
The Anglican Communion is made up of a wide variety of theological persuasions, spiritualities and worship styles ranging from Low Church Bible-thumping Evangelical to the type of High Church Anglo-Catholic liturgical prayer and worship that is taught and practiced at Nashotah House.
Katharine Jefferts Schori has brought to her elevated post a wide variety of unrecognizable non-Christian theological stances and has supported some very unbiblical social causes. At the same time, she has dealt a very heavy hand to those around her including some of the bishops on the Nashotah Board of Trustees. Some in Christendom don’t even consider her a Christian, while others feel she is heretical and an anathema. The thought of her preaching at Nashotah is beyond reasonable, like inviting the fox into the hen house. Hence, two bishops have publically vocalized their disdain and have used their feet to distance themselves from the Wisconsin seminary. As the story continued to unfold, it was learned that in actuality the XXVI Presiding Bishop was not being invited to preach at The House because of her questionable theological stances, her lack luster preaching ability, or her embracing the hot button issues which have divided the church. Instead, after discernment with the Board of Trustees, the three inquiring students and select faculty members with soul searching prayer, Bishop Salmon determined that the prominent Wisconsin seminary could reach out to Katharine Jefferts Schori with the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ being presented in a graceful, non-judgmental loving manner thus graphically showing that her misconceptions and negative opinions about Nashotah House are unfounded.
“The House is a place — perhaps the only place — in the Anglican Communion where ecclesial affiliation has remained secondary to our primary mission of forming faithful priests and lay leaders for service on the modern frontier,” Bishop Salmon explained in a Nashotah news release on the subject.
Bishop Salmon fully acknowledged that even he and Bishop Martins have crossed swords with the Presiding Bishop. They have felt the sting of her revamped Title IV disciplinary actions over their amicus curiae in support of the ACNA dioceses of Fort Worth and Quincy in TEC’s on-going legal battles with the former TEC dioceses. But Nashotah’s IXX Dean doesn’t hold a grudge, finding forgiveness as Christ did on the Cross, and being able to move beyond the woundedness.
“I’m not looking to enter into a theological battle with her to get her to see the world the way we see it,” Bishop Salmon told VOL Friday. “She has been invited to preach to a theological community, not a parish church where half the people don’t know any theology. She is coming to preach to a sophisticated theological community with a fine faculty and students who know the New Testament and know Jesus.”
That is all the Presiding Bishop will be able to do. She will not be allowed to celebrate the Eucharist. No women priest nor female bishop has ever exercised her priesthood at Nashotah’s altar since its inception 172 years ago. Nashotah is one of the few places remaining in The Episcopal Church were the male priesthood takes precedence, although Nashotah is a coeducation institution. However, when the Presiding Bishop comes to Nashotah, she will preach in the century-and-a-half-old Chapel of St. Mary the Virgin which was rededicated by Bishop Salmon in 2009 to the Glory of God for another century of prayer and worship.
PRESIDING BISHOP NIXES NASHOTAH FOR MINISTRY
The deep background of this story is that the Presiding Bishop specifically told one of her Executive Council members not to seek his theological education at Nashotah House. This negative advice was also delivered to two other co-ed students while they were in discernment about their seminary training at The House. All three Nashotahians have found their theological experience at Nashotah House to be a deeply religious and positive experience and wanted Katharine Jefferts Schori to experience for herself the loving prayerful atmosphere that Nashotah has to offer as they are theologically and spiritually formed for their future ministries in The Episcopal Church.
The Executive Council member is Terry Star, a transitional deacon and a Native American from Standing Rock, North Dakota.
Nashotah House originally founded in 1842, even before the statehood of Wisconsin, has maintained a steady stream of unbroken Benedictine-style prayer. This structured prayer has sustained The House in good times and in bad. It is this prayer which undergirds the spirit of Nashotah coupled with the joyful celebration of the Sacraments in an Anglo-Catholic manner, and the prophetic preaching of the uncompromised Gospel. It is in this prayerful seedbed that students seeking the diaconate, and some eventually the priesthood, are nurtured and formed through ascetics, disciple and prayer during their seminary years in southeast Wisconsin.
Nashotah students come from a variety of locations including Episcopal dioceses, ANCA jurisdictions, and even foreign Anglican providences. Nashotah is a melting pot of piety, cultures, liturgical practice, political leanings, religiosity, and social customs. What they have in common is Christ and their Anglicanism — however it is expressed — and their desire to obtain a Nashotah education wrapped within a Benedictine spirituality which states in St. Benedict’s Rule that “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ.” This includes the current Episcopal Presiding Bishop. “Proper honor must be shown to all, especially to those who share our faith and to pilgrims.” The Presiding Bishop is Episcopalian and Nashotah House is an Episcopal seminary.
Bishop Salmon was originally ordained priest in 1961. For more than 50 years, the Episcopal clergyman has witnessed the growing changes in The Episcopal Church, and the wider Anglican Communion, with its increasing derision, unforgiveness and unwillingness to find common ground in Christ and live in charity as neighbors.
“One thing we are struggling with in this Church is that people have done things to each other they ought not to have done,” Bishop Salmon explained to VOL. “They have done hurtful things, they have sued each other, and have done all kinds of things. That’s bad and wrong.
“I invited Katharine Schori to The House because three students that she told ‘not to come’ wanted her to see a place where people were from ACNA and TEC and all kinds other places and we weren’t suing each other, and we weren’t mad at each other, and we were living in a Christ-centered community,” The Bishop continued. “I don’t know how it will affect her. That is the message she needs to hear from us. I want her to see a place where all kinds of people from different ecclesial bodies are living in harmony with each other.
“We take no joy from the knowledge that folks who love The House are grieved by the invitation and it was not issued in any other spirit than that of engaging in mission. The ‘Pax Nashotah’ is not going to go away. The commitment to the Anglo-Catholic vision of the ‘faith once delivered to the Saints’ is not going to go away,” the Nashotah news release concludes. “The mission of The House, the direction of The House, the theology of The House is not changing. A visit — even one involving a sermon — will not change what has been bought at a price.”
Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline