Presiding Bishop preaches, delivers convention address in Hawai'i

Posted Nov 12, 2012

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori addresses the annual convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Hawai’i Nov. 9. Photo/Richard Schori

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori addressed the annual convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Hawai’i on Nov. 9 and preached at St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Honolulu on Nov. 11. The full texts of the address and sermon follow.

Opening Address
Diocese of Hawai’i Sesquicentennial
9 November 2012

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

Greetings from the whole of the Episcopal Church, and congratulations on your sesquicentennial – the whole of this church rejoices with you in marking this notable anniversary!

Your bishop has asked me to reflect on where we’re going as a church and what your particular vocation might be here in Hawai’i.  In order to do that, I want to reflect a bit on the context here.  One of the most distinctive things about our Anglican heritage is that we think context is of major importance.  We can’t reflect the image of God or be truly human representatives of Jesus Christ unless we claim the unique gifts of our creation.  Much of the English Reformation furor was about worshipping God in a “language understanded of the people.”  It’s not just the language we speak but how we live and dress and meet our neighbors.  It’s got a lot to do with how we govern ourselves, what sort of churches we build, the music we sing, the way we move and dance and proclaim the gospel.  This Hawai’ian context has everything in the world to do with what your next 150 years are going to look like.

So, where has this church and diocese come from?

These islands were first populated by Polynesian adventurers and navigators, who probably came here 1500 years ago, plus or minus a century or two.  They seem to have slowed or stopped their journeying around 800 years ago.  Those sailors ventured across much of the Pacific, to Rapa Nui and Aotearoa, with foodstuffs, animals, plants, people, skills, culture and language.  There are profound connections between the cultures in every place they settled, but there has been unique development in each context.

There are some interesting parallels with the development of Anglican Christianity.  Some of those ancestors made very similar journeys – and we could start with the divine voyage into human flesh, and Paul’s repeated travels around the Mediterranean.  There is some evidence of Christianity in the British Isles in the 1st century, just a few years after Jesus walked the earth, and there’s a lot more evidence of Christian presence within a few decades after that.  Roman soldiers came to those islands and brought a new faith and worship tradition with them.  They left it there when they were recalled to the central parts of the Roman Empire, and Christianity began to take root among the tribes of the British Isles.  It was spread by other sailors and those who went down to the sea to “mess about in boats.”  Brendan the Navigator (484-577), Columba (521-597 and Abbot of Iona), and bands of Irish monks set out in little boats to carry their faith across the sea, from Ireland to Scotland, to the many islands of the eastern Atlantic, and maybe a lot farther west across that ocean.  Some other seafarers came raiding from the north, and some of those Vikings eventually became Christians (and settled or left descendants in the British Isles).  Some of them also went exploring west and south and east, across the known and unknown reaches of the Atlantic and Mediterranean.  Voyaging is part of the Celtic Christian heritage.

The history of these islands was interrupted by some of those voyagers from the east, perhaps beginning with a forgotten Italian navigator, Juan Gaetano, in 1555.  The first known visitor was an Anglican, James Cook, who arrived in 1778 and 1779.  He was soon followed by others, including one who spent parts of several years here, George Vancouver – better known for his voyages along the Pacific coast of North America.[1]

During his time here in the early 1790s, George Vancouver came to know King Kamehameha I, who had unified these islands not long before.  Vancouver commended two Englishmen to him as counselors in matters religious and political, Isaac Davis and John Young – and much later, one of Davis’ granddaughters became Queen Emma.  The influence of Anglican Christianity seems to have run deep with the king, and before Vancouver departed in 1795, Kamehameha extracted a promise to send teachers of the faith to these islands.  It was a promise that would be remembered for decades before it was satisfied.  Yet the seeds planted in the 18th century took root and began to grow.  They influenced later kings who respected the way of life even if they didn’t themselves become Christians.  Those seeds slowly changed attitudes and eventually ended the kapu system in 1819.

The Christian missionaries who were admitted here in 1820 weren’t Anglican, and proved fairly rigid when it came to the local context.  That’s actually been a frequent failing of Christians in new contexts – we think we know what is essential to Christianity even when it turns out to be more shaped by our own prejudice than the heart of the gospel.  Mu’umu’us are a good example – what started out as something like Protestant burqas have morphed into new cultural expressions of the local context.  Aloha shirts probably have a connection with those puritanical holokus, though the world is not likely to see their roots in missionary modesty concerns!

Context shapes us as people of faith, and in turn we shape our context.  The story that is more frequently told about the coming of Anglican missionaries to these islands grounds it in Kamehameha IV’s childhood experience of the Church of England.  He wanted his people to have a faith that felt consonant with the best of Hawai’ian culture, and encouraged the English to send missionaries.

Americans who lived here had been asking for an Episcopal cleric since 1840; a deacon spent 6 months here in 1852, and Bishop Kip of California worked hard to find a priest who would settle here for some time without success, until he finally approached the bishops of Oxford and London.  They consecrated Thomas Staley in 1862, and King Kamehameha and Queen Emma were confirmed a few months after he arrived.  They supported and encouraged his work, and the king worked to translate the Prayer Book and helped Staley learn the language and how to preach in Hawai’ian before he died in 1863.  Queen Emma is best known for her work with the sick and founding the hospital that still bears her name.  Archbishop Longley knew her well, and spoke of her “saintly piety.”

Staley returned to London after 7 years, and the next prospect was Bishop Henry Whipple of Minnesota (who also helped start the church in Cuba), but after long deliberation he finally declined.  The Church of England consecrated Alfred Willis, who arrived in 1872.  For the next 30 years he built schools and churches, profoundly strengthened the church here, and after the American takeover of these islands, equipped the church here to become a missionary district of The Episcopal Church, which it did in 1902.  Among the students educated at Iolani during Willis’ time was Sun Yat Sen.  The First Nations people of these islands helped to form another father of nations, a Christian, and a healer[2].

These islands are one of the most multicultural of all the United States and Episcopal dioceses, and have continued to welcome migrants from Europe, the Pacific, and Asia – especially Chinese in the early years, then Japanese, and later Filipinos, and other Pacific Islanders.  The bishop of Hawai’i even had charge of a Russian Orthodox priest for a time in the early 1900s!

The many strands of the church here are not unlike the three tikanga of the church of Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia – and grow out of a similar ability to bless and celebrate the gifts of many cultures.  God has created us in diversity, and the reign of God is certainly more evident when we can see the image of God in its variety.

Those many strands and seeds have taken root and flourished in these islands – sometimes quite literally, in the pigs, dogs, chickens, taro, sweet potatoes, coconut, banana, and sugarcane brought by early Polynesian sailors; in the oranges and grape vines, cattle, sheep, and goats Vancouver brought; and in the later arrival of rice, pineapples, coffee, macadamia nuts, and horses.  Most of those imports have been creatively received, a few less so.  Yet, like mu’umu’us, even originally problematic introductions are frequently redeemed in these fertile lands.  The church and culture will continue to grow, develop, and evolve if we seek the welfare of all, if we live in expectation of resurrection when change confronts us.

What has Christianity, particularly the Anglican variety, wrought here?  The Hawaiian royal family kept asking for fulfillment of Vancouver’s promise, and perhaps finally as Kamehameha IV sought the gentle spirituality he’d seen in England as a child.  The particular gifts of Anglicanism here in these islands have had to do with multicultural, multivalent blessing of God’s diverse creation.  For God’s sake, even the Church of England and The Episcopal Church have managed to cooperate here!

Yet it seems that Jesus’ own ministry is the best image for the ways in which this Church has been faithful.  Above all, Jesus fed and taught people, healed and reconciled.  He listened and learned, and asked what people wanted and needed – and then responded to the particular need or context, and challenged us to do the same for the least of these, with food, water, clothing or shelter, welcome to the stranger, and solidarity and companionship to the sick and imprisoned.  He didn’t bring water to the overfilled; he challenged the satisfied.  He broke down barriers between people(s), confronted the systems that built those barriers, and teaches us to do the same.

The particular gifts of the Hawai’ian church’s response have been about feeding local hungers, healing the sick in body mind and spirit, and teaching minds open and eager to learn.  All are concerned with bringing good news to the poor, liberation to captives, and healing, whether we think ourselves needy or well-(or over-)satisfied.  Our task as the body of Christ is to proclaim that hope-filled news of the reign of God within us, around and among us, and abroad in this world of wounds and wonder.

The work of this church in the years ahead is about what I hope are becoming the familiar Five Anglican Marks of Mission, rooted in this context:

  • proclaiming the good news of the kingdom – what you teach in diocesan schools and Sunday schools, and also the work of public advocacy toward a healed community for all
  • teaching, baptizing, and nurturing new believers – we tend to think about this mostly inside churches, but what about the unchurched out there – or the myriads of young people asking big questions?  How can we meet them at Starbucks, athletic clubs, bars and the beach?  Jesus would certainly be hanging out with surfers and with the crews of fishing vessels…
  • respond to human need through loving service – through hospitals and healing work, but also through Nets for Life, ERD; ministry with immigrants, migrant workers and refugees; through food banks and community gardens, and storm relief.  Free and open meals in some places, like Leadville[3] and St. Louis,[4] shift the focus from charity for the poor to building community for all and healing social division
  • transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence, and pursue peace and reconciliation[5] – helping young people prepare for constructive participation in society; working against domestic violence and trafficking; helping to build cultures of safety in church and all communities; working for peace in the Middle East and on the Korean peninsula.  It includes changing systems that exploit migrant labor, or incarcerated persons, or that encourage armed violence – in Sudan and Congo as well as the US
  • care for the earth – education and advocacy about climate change, sea level rise, fuel use; understanding the interrelationships of our stewardship of food, fuel, and water, and the connections to migration of peoples fleeing conflict and climate disasters; the difficulty of crop production given desertification or war in Sudan; disappearing homelands in the Pacific.  Bishop Michael Baroi said to the HOB several years ago after floods in Bangladesh:  “save us from these curses.”

How will we serve in the years ahead?  Consider where we might find partners for this kind of mission.  God can use anybody who shares a vision for a healed world – they don’t all have to be Episcopalians or even Christians.  Who knows something about the generational impacts of land loss or cultural repression?  Certainly the Maori and the First Nations peoples of North America, but also the descendants of those pushed off the Scottish highlands in favor of sheep farming, and the indigenous peoples of the Andes now losing their land and way of life to mining – and also small farmers everywhere who can’t compete with industrialized agriculture.  What does the good news of Jesus have to offer, and how can we navigate those divides in order to heal lost and lonely people?

What do Buddhists and Hindus, Muslims and Jews, Episcopalians and Roman Catholics have to teach and learn from one other about economic displacement, under- and un-employment, and the search for healed and holy communities?

This Episcopal Church has plenty to learn from its younger members and newer ones about what sorts of healing and hungers are deepest right now.  Are we willing to listen and learn, like Jesus with the Syrophoenician woman?  Are we willing to ask, “what do you want God to do for you?”  Are we willing to learn new ways of responding to those hungers?  Nelle Morton calls this “hearing others into speech,” providing the kind of hospitality that encourages others to tell their deepest longing.  It might also be called evangelism, and a kind that Episcopalians might even embrace.  There’s another aspect that involves helping each one discover where gifts have already been given – blessing the good creation God has done in this one and that community, having appropriate pride in the way God has created each one of us.

We know that we’re going to need to continue to learn new ways of stewarding all the gifts of creation – perhaps we can learn to use them more wisely through listening more deeply to the voiceless around us, groaning in travail – both the human beings most affected by weather extremes, job loss, changing economies, and the non-human creation.  Who is despairing, hopeless, wandering?  May God send us out to meet them (and meet the hopelessness in ourselves) and help us discover the gifts and good creation already present.  That amounts to blessing, that is hopeful work, but we have to get up and go, out of our safety zone – that, after all, is what mission means, whether it is discovering Jesus in the midst of a homeless church or in prison or the chilly neighbor next door whom we still don’t really know.

The challenges and opportunities in the years ahead are directly related to these kinds of mission – the work to and for which God sends us into the world – indeed, the kind of adventuring exploration that brought the ancestors to these islands.  Where and how will we venture forth in search of the kingdom of God?  This shrinking globe means that we are ever more conscious of our interconnections – as cultural strands in the same context, and as partners in the blessing or cursing of this planet on which we all dwell.  Rising seas and changing climate will have the greatest impact on those who dwell closest to moana.[6]  We are ohana[7] because we have our life from living water, we know the eternal oceanic reality of continuity and change, and of the gifts of crossing the great expanses of the sea, especially when some see that expanse as a barrier to keep strangers out.  We know that God’s spirit hovers over the chaotic and creative sea, whether we speak of traveling human beings or migrating creatures and soil.  We are connected in the living water of Christ’s life within us.  The next years and centuries in this place can be a source of deep and abiding blessing if we are immersed in that living water.

I want to close with a prayer and a blessing.  The prayer is that of a young Polynesian from Vanuatu:

O Jesus, be the canoe that holds me in the sea of life, be the steer that keeps me straight, be the outrigger that supports me in time of great temptation.  Let your Spirit be my sail that carries me through each day, as I journey steadfastly on the long voyage of life.  Amen.[8]

And a blessing from the other side of the world:

Deep peace of the running wave to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
Deep peace of the shining stars to you.
Deep peace of the Christ of peace to you.

[1] A very helpful survey of the early years of the church in Hawai’i:

[2] Sun Yat Sen learned about Christianity at Iolani, and was later baptized.  He trained as a medical doctor.

[3] St. George, Leadville, Colorado:

[5] Attention to violence and peacemaking added at ACC15

[6] the sea

[7] family

[8] Cited by Winston Halapua, Waves of God’s Embrace: Sacred Perspectives from the Ocean.  Canterbury Press: 2008.

150th anniversary of the church in Hawai’i
11 November 2012
St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Honolulu
Anniversary of the Dedication of a Church

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

These islands are frequently compared to paradise, a word that comes from Middle Eastern roots meaning “a walled garden.”  It’s one of the ancient biblical images of heaven.  That walled garden was a place of plenty – the orchard or vineyard of the Hebrew Bible, as well as a parkland where animals abound – where the lion lies down with the lamb, and children can play with snakes and not be hurt.  It’s an image of creation restored, without violence or death.

The walls that hold Hawai’i’s garden’s treasures safe are the rocky shores and coral reefs and vast reaches of water that bound these islands, like the four rivers that surround the Garden of Eden, or even God’s separation of land and waters on the third day of creation.  The biblical understanding of paradise has always had a sense that it includes God’s rich creation in a state like heaven, close to God and living in peace.

This Pacific Eden shares something with Jacob’s dream in its echoes of voyagers moving from earth to heaven, from far off places to these mid-ocean islands.  The romanticizing of Hawaii in novel and film draws on ancient human dreams, even if the reality is still a long way from those yearnings.

The animals and plants that first populated these islands came like Jacob’s visitors on fragile conveyances – like mounting flimsy ladders, they were blown in on wind or waves, riding spider silk or bird feathers.  The first human beings came on equally delicate craft, piloted by intrepid explorers who navigated the seas like winged ones.  Those canoes also brought new plants and animals for food, which changed the landscape here – and the creative and chaotic result also has something to do with the story of creation.

God has indeed given an abundant land to the people of this place, and later inhabitants have continued to shape and re-create these islands both wittingly and unawares.  The authorities work hard to ensure that pests don’t arrive with fruit or plants, that exotic species can’t cross the bounds of these islands:  “There will be no ladders of transport on airplanes or boats!”  At the same time those exotic creatures have arrived, and will undoubtedly continue to do so, whether they are spiders or human beings.  They are part of the richness of creation, and God’s creation has always been mobile.

God’s promises to Jacob of land and offspring and blessing extend to all, and they have always involved migration.  These lush islands and the people and communities they contain are also meant to be blessing, for those here and far beyond – all the families of the earth, now and for generations to come.  This community has been blessed by the Jacobs before us – what will the offspring of this generation, and theirs, know and do of blessing?  How will these living stones, chosen race, royal priesthood, and God’s own people be a blessing for generations to come?

Kamehameha IV invited English missionaries here because he saw something of that royal priesthood in their houses of prayer.  We can imagine what he saw:  collegiate choirs singing matins or Morning Prayer, the monastic traditions kept alive in a daily round of prayer in parish churches, the stately language of King James’ Bible, formal and reserved worship in ancient churches.  You can still find that tradition in the churches of England today, but you can also find a great deal more variation in music, style, word, and image.

If you go to Britain today to look at churches, you will discover a lot of ruined abbeys, and the remnants of enormous medieval monasteries.  Henry VIII closed those monasteries in the early years of the Reformation, and almost immediately they began to be quite literally dismantled.  The stones were sold for building material (sometimes by their former abbots), and carted off to be incorporated in homes, fences, forts, and castles.  Some found their way into new churches.  In a few places you can see new construction atop parts of old walls, and recent renovations that have made modern dwellings out of ancient rock.

This house of prayer called the Episcopal Church in Hawaii has been built of living stones in the same way – the strength of generations joined together with the adaptability of new ones.  These stones aren’t joined together with inflexible mortar, nor are they set up like dry stone walls by the careful sorting and fitting that rejects stone after stone if it doesn’t quite “fit.”  This new house is built from a web of relationships that transform the members into a living organism, a body that works together for a purpose larger than itself.  These stones become more than any individual might alone – they are re-created by their joining to this body.

Jesus’ challenge in the temple is about how those stones are used.  He calls it a den of robbers, a hiding place, a place of exploitation and death, rather than what it was made to be – creative and healing and life-giving.  Jesus is confronting people about their stony hearts, their willingness to steal the life-bread from their fellow human beings, both in taking their money for profit and in trying to deny healing to the blind and lame.  His listeners have become dead stones, rather than living ones.  He is rejecting the violent use of stones to kill and maim and wall others out.

Today marks two essential elements of wall building.  This church is setting up a marker on the wall that notes the passage of 150 years since construction was started here.  It could just be a lovely brass memorial marker, noting the lives given in the years since the beginning, or in special service to this work.  That is certainly a good and noble thing, but the paradise wall is meant to keep growing to enclose a community of peace.  The stones in that garden’s wall are low enough, or porous enough, to admit all creatures who are seeking the good and godly.  The living stones also have to be challenging enough to confront violence.  While there may not be an end to violence this side of the grave, it should be questioned and confronted at every turn.  When these living stones are strong and confident enough they build walls of justice, and bring peace.

Today’s observance of Veterans’ Day is an invitation to give thanks for the living stones who have offered themselves in the pursuit of peace, those like Jesus himself who have been subject to the world’s violence, injured or killed as a result.  Some will indeed be remembered as markers on the wall of the garden that is still being built.  Others have returned home chipped and broken, seeking peace.  How will the living stones build them in?  It can take a lot of flexibility, re-creation, and resurrection to help the broken find a fruitful place – yet the healing of the whole depends on it.  The garden will be built by studying war no more.

Let me share two brief examples of that sort of building project.  St. Andrew’s Episcopal Chapel in Sewanee, TN, has a set of bells like yours.  The money for them was given almost 100 years ago by Episcopal Church Women in Morristown, NJ.  They’d been raising money to send chocolate to soldiers during WWI, and when the war ended, they still had several thousand dollars.  They sent the money to Sewanee on the condition that those bells be rung every year on this day at 11:11 in the morning, to remember the signing of that peace treaty.[1]

Yesterday we saw a similar building project here at St. Elizabeth’s, where people from almost every tribe and language and people and nation of the Pacific were gathered to give thanks.  Children read books and showed videos and robots they had created, others sang and danced their joy, and still others prepared the soul foods of many cultures – all to celebrate the peace-building work that goes on thanks to some living stones in this Episcopal diocese and their partners in the wider community.  That garden is being built one child, one family, one gardener at a time.[2]

We are people of God, given gifts to build peace.  We are descendants of a royal priesthood, sent to break down walls of division and build pillars of justice.  Give thanks, and let the joy ring out in bells and song and dance and alleluias!


Comments (1)

  1. Sandy Grant says:

    The comments posted here make me think of John 13:35. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples; that you love one another. “

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