Thursday, September 22, 2011

Report on the House of Bishops Meeting

September 21, 2011 St. Matthew the Evangelist Dear colleagues and friends, As I write this I am aboard a flight from Miami returning to Washington, DC. Early this morning Carolyn and I left Quito, Ecuador where for the last seven days I've been attending the Fall House of Bishops meeting. The 9000+ feet altitude takes a little bit of getting used to. However, we found Quito to be a charming Latin American city. Perhaps the most impressive attribute of the city is the people who live there. We found them to be gracious in ways that far exceeded any of our expectations. There are many things I could tell you about our HOB meeting. Since I am aware that you can get the most of this information from the Episcopal News Service where Ms. Neva Rae Fox, our Public Affairs Officer has posted daily stories, I'll limit myself in this brief missive to a description of three particular things. Some of you may be wondering why in the world we decided to meet in Ecuador. Quite honestly, I found myself asking the same question. What I have come to realize, some of which I already knew, is that in going to Quito we never left the confines of The Episcopal Church (TEC). Quito is in Province IX of TEC and consists of these dioceses: Ecuador Central, Ecuador Litoral, Columbia, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Venezuela. On occasion I hear some of my colleagues refer to TEC as the "national church." Quite literally, because our church borders stretch far beyond the confines of the continental United States, it has been ages since TEC has been a "national church." If anything, we are we are an international communion of Anglican provinces and dioceses in the Americas, and not the "national church." One of the most significant benefits of being in Quito was to have an opportunity to be a witness to the mission of the Diocese of Ecuador Central. Last Saturday Carolyn and I, and many other bishops and spouses, boarded a bus early in the morning and took a day trip to the town of Tulcan on the Ecuadorian-Columbian border. While there we learned that for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the ongoing armed civil conflict in Columbia, the refugee population moving from Columbia to Ecuador is one of the largest in the world. On that Saturday the bishops and spouses gathered on the bridge that connects Ecuador to Columbia and engaged in prayers for the people who were literally leaving all they had, sometimes to include beloved family members, to escape the instability and violence of Columbia. Later in the day we spent time at the border Episcopal mission congregation people as they bore witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ. The work of our Episcopal mission is to use word and deed to tell the refugees how important they are in the sight of God. My final observation has to do with a speech I made on your behalf to the entire HOB. I made a request to work with bishops diocesan when a chaplain from another Christian faith tradition wants to become an Episcopal priest and a chaplain of this church. Currently there at least five chaplains, in five different dioceses, who are engaged in discernment about becoming a priest of this church. I spoke to the bishops about our efforts to recruit women and men to become chaplains in each of the three federal entities of this episcopacy. I told my colleagues that in order to become a federal chaplain the applicant needs to be agile, flexible, healthy, smart and missionally committed. In other words, we are looking for the best of the best. Finally, I issued a request for invitations to the diocesan councils and conventions of TEC in order to bear witness to the excellent work you will do. It is greatly important to me that the people of our church know what you do for the women and men whom you serve. Upon leaving I had numerous invitations. Though I estimate that it will take four to five years to visit the majority of our dioceses, I am committed to making these visits for one very simple reason: my pride in who you are and what you do. Sisters and brothers, you are some of the hardest working and most dedicated front-line missionaries of this church working in the most difficult settings that anyone could ever imagine. Be faithful and know that I pray for all of you each day. +Jay

Friday, September 9, 2011

Article from Episcopal News Service

Following 9/11, Episcopal chaplains made room for sacred space
By Val Hymes, September 08, 2011

[Episcopal News Service] "I realized we had to do something. We've got to step into the vacuum, step into the breach, either lean in or run away. We are chaplains. We know how to do chaplain's work."

George Packard, then Episcopal Church bishop suffragan of chaplaincies, had gone alone to the still-smoking Ground Zero, where terrorist attacks had destroyed the Twin Towers in New York. With those words, he pushed back his grief and fear and moved to rally forces and launch what became a 100-day mission of support to those at the site and in nearby communities.

It began the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when someone entered the chapel at the Episcopal Church Center in New York to tell announce that a plane had just flown into the World Trade Center.

"I happened to be leading morning prayer that morning," said the Rev. Gerald Blackburn, director of federal chaplaincies and executive officer to the bishop suffragan. "We soon realized it was not a small plane off course. After the service, we gathered around a television set and watched in numbness and shock as the second tower was struck."

Packard recalled, "We went outside to smell burning rubber and electrical-fire fumes. The wind was blowing smoke and debris. People were streaming up the avenue with their clothes covered in ash. The sirens started to wail, they closed down all the avenues. It was just chaos. We started to make an assessment of what we had to do."

Said Blackburn, "The whole city was in shock."

Earlier that morning, at the Pentagon across the Potomac River from the nation's capital, Senior Chaplain Jay Magness, now Episcopal Church bishop suffragan for the Armed Services and federal ministries, had sat down to a meeting of senior chaplains. Thirty-five minutes after the second tower was hit in New York, alarms sounded, ordering evacuation at the Pentagon.

Magness and his colleagues went outside to see billowing smoke and flames. A plane had flown into the building about two wings away. They quickly broke into teams of three and re-entered the building to help rescue survivors.

"It looked like nothing I've ever seen," he said. "I saw the absolute horror in people's eyes. Acrid smoke filled our nostrils. We tore up T-shirts for masks."

Magness worked with two other chaplains and helped carry out the injured and dying, comforted other survivors and called families for them. His own wife, Carolyn, did not hear that he was safe until hours later.

"We had absolutely no first-aid equipment," Magness said. A senior Air Force officer dragged out a medical cabinet and broke it open with a chair. With no ambulances there yet, "we were using minivans," he said. "I will never forget seeing a woman who ran out of her shoes and kept running."

'We were needed'

In New York, church center staff members, including the Rev. Jackie Means, the Rev. Melford "Bud" Holland, UMC minister David Henritzy and the Rev. Canon Brian Grieves, left to find a way to help people.

"I knew we were needed somewhere," said Means.

Some went to a hospital to comfort families waiting for survivors who never came; others went to an emergency rallying point on Manhattan's lower West Side to help counsel the shocked and grieving evacuees and workers.

"Every New Yorker of every stripe and kind came bringing blankets and water jugs on their shoulders," said Packard. "It was New Yorkers at their best, wearing both tattoos and suits.

"We didn't know the extent of anything," said Packard, "so we hunkered down to assess what we could do." He and Magness each had fought in Vietnam. They did not know if there would be another attack.

In his first trip to Ground Zero, using his military identification to get through the barriers, Packard found a "silt-like ash covering everything. Lights were on the lattice-grid, the shell of a tower about three stories tall.

"It was eerie, with smoke and steam and secondary explosions. Fire hoses snaked around all over the place. The only thing left was a hill of debris. It was awful."

Recalled Means, "It looked like World War II, with everything bombed out. Nothing is around, but the church is there." While a dozen buildings around the Twin Towers were demolished or badly damaged, she said, St. Paul's Episcopal Chapel did not have even a cracked window.

When Packard got to St. Paul's, he found the Rev. Lyndon Harris, priest-in-charge, putting water out on a table and inviting in exhausted firefighters and EMS crews. Soon the chapel became a haven and the heart of the ministry to the workers, providing food prepared by the chefs of New York's restaurants, medical treatment, pastoral counseling and the services of a podiatrist and a chiropractor.

"This is what the church is about," said Means. "One woman's ministry was to bring fresh flowers to the chapel every day."

Added Packard, "Lyndon Harris is the real hero of this story. He brought things together. It was a unique luminary, a unique moment of the church happening there at St. Paul's."

"For three or four days the Episcopal church and a Catholic priest were the only presence there," said Packard. "The Diocese of New York asked us to be the clearinghouse for chaplains at Ground Zero, so we set up a rotation of chaplains to be on site 24-7."

When they arrived at Ground Zero, Blackburn said, he and Packard found National Guardsmen, firefighters and emergency workers hungering for a blessing or a prayer. "One big old policeman wrapped his arms around me," Blackburn said.

When they took water to the workers at the debris "pile," Means said, "one said he needed a hug. I gave him one. It was the simple things that were needed."

"We helped set up a field morgue on the site," said Packard. "They would bring us remains the size of a lunch box or a toaster. We would say prayers and see that they were given proper care. It was awful."

While working at Ground Zero, he simultaneously was acting as liaison with the Pentagon and the 13 affected dioceses and trying to minister to all Episcopal military, health-care and prison chaplains. "It was pretty exhausting," he said.

He declared "100 days of Mission Support." It included satellite programs to minister to those in surrounding communities whose loved ones did not come home from work after 9/11.

"The shock effect was not only at Ground Zero," he said. "There were cars never claimed in parking lots in the suburbs. Every community had some part of the trauma."

Field teams worked with people in the churches in the tri-state area. Psychologist David Knowlton from the Diocese of New Jersey "brought his vision and expertise to that mission," Packard said.

Many of the clergy pressed into service as chaplains continued ministering day and night at Ground Zero even after the Red Cross took over that role. Families of the chaplains became involved.

"I love this city," said Brook Packard, the bishop's wife. "The people are grieving. I feel so much for them." She went to the site at 3 a.m. to offer water and comfort to the workers working under floodlights.

The Seamen's Church Institute on Water Street also became a respite site for first responders and was served by Episcopal chaplains, prompting Packard to refer to the "Episcopal bookends" of Ground Zero. Bishop Christopher Epting, one of the clergy drafted for chaplain service there, advocated for "patient and wise conversations with the Islamic community," said Packard.

Magness said 9/11 was the third mass casualty event he had dealt with in his life. As chaplain, he had worked with the families of the victims of the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Beirut and of the bomb that damaged the USS Cole in 2000.

"All three were inspired by or committed by Islamic terrorists. It began for me two years of spiritual calibration," he said. That included defending a Muslim chaplain at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo, on the island of Cuba, and pressing for a military message after 9/11 of nonretaliation against Muslims in the service, saying, "They are Americans and part of our team."

"I questioned why people who embrace the same God can do something like that," Magness said. "I gradually came to realize that we need to affirm others whose faith differs from ours. If we don't find a way to do that, we stand a chance of killing every man, woman and child on the face of this earth."

Packard said he did not know if he could have done things differently. "I do know," he said, that in giving last rites to the remains of victims over and over at Ground Zero, "I had a definite sense of God's grace.

"I knew," he said, "that we had to make room for sacred space for the holiness that was there."

-- Val Hymes is a member of the Diocese of Maryland and editor of

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Seating of the Canon

Many have asked and perhaps several are wondering about the seating of Bishop Magness as a Canon at the Washington National Cathedral.

What is a canon and how does a canon function? An ecclesiastical person (Latin Canonicus), a member of a chapter or body of clerics living according to rule and presided over by one of their number. In this case, Bishop Magness, who is one of three Bishops Suffragan (Assistant Bishops) to the Presiding Bishop, will be seated as the Presiding Bishop’s Canon at the Washington National Cathedral.

Bishop Magness is the Bishop Suffragan for Armed Services and Federal Ministries of the Episcopal Church. Have you ever wondered to whom he serves as Suffragan? The answer is that he the Bishop Suffragan to the Presiding Bishop and is responsible to her for the ecclesiastical oversight of all Federal Ministries engaged in by The Episcopal Church.

You may or may not be aware of the fact that the Presiding Bishop has a chair (cathedra) at the Washington National Cathedral. The Presiding Bishop will seat (install) Bishop Magness as her Canon to function on her behalf at Services and events involving Federal Ministries. Bishop Magness will be involved in Services such as the annual United States Marine Corps Anniversary held at evensong on the Sunday closest to November 10. If there should be a national funeral for a dignitary or if an event is scheduled to be held at the Washington National Cathedral related to Federal Ministries, Bishop Magness will be asked to participate on behalf of the Presiding Bishop.

What you may be gathering from this blog is that Bishop Magness will not be the “Dean” of the cathedral nor will he be on the staff of either the cathedral or the Episcopal Diocese of Washington. While this position will require a minimum amount of time it will produce the added benefit of connecting all of our military, V.A., and Federal Bureau of Prison chaplains more closely to the Presiding Bishop, Washington National Cathedral, and to The Episcopal Church.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Spirituality Forged in Smoke and Fire: A 9/11 Retrospective

[Note: This article was written by Bishop Magness for publication in The Huffington Post.]

As the senior military chaplain for U.S. Joint Forces Command, I was in Arlington, Virginia with my colleagues for an annual meeting of the senior Armed Forces chaplains assigned to the command staffs of our nation's Joint, or unified commands. On the morning of Tuesday, the 11th of September, we were riding in a small bus going down the hill from our hotel to the Pentagon where our meeting would be held in an E-ring conference room near the Pentagon Athletic Center entrance. As stated in the opening sentence of the 9/11 Commission Report, the day “…dawned temperate and nearly cloudless in the eastern United States (p. 1).” Driving past Arlington National Cemetery I recall thinking how placid a place that was. Then I came back into reality and remembered the funerals I had done there as a Navy chaplain who had worked next door in the Navy Annex (to the Pentagon) a couple of years earlier.

We were a few minutes late getting to our meeting because our driver, a man with Middle Eastern features, had missed the turnoff to the Pentagon. We had to go into the District of Columbia, turn around and come back for the correct turn into the Pentagon parking lot.

All in all, it was a pretty normal morning - until American Airlines flight #77 that was still almost full of fuel came in over the northern horizon and slammed into the side of the building. It was only after we had been evacuated from the building that my life began to change. After being sequestered for a few minutes near the Potomac River, it was apparent that what some of us at first thought was an emergency drill had actually been a sizable explosion on the far side of the building. Collectively we knew that the explosion called for a response. We had been called to action. Through the leadership of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chaplain we were organized into small teams headed by the senior medical officer present. Since all of us had been trained in immediate first aid, we were eager to use our combined medical training and pastoral skills to give aid to the injured and comfort to the dying.
As we worked to rescue the injured service members and civilians to give rudimentary medical assistance, simultaneously we worked to find the ambulances of necessity: a small fleet of mini-vans that belonged to persons who worked in the Pentagon.

After an hour or two, it was clear that all the "easy" rescues had already been made. It was time to re-enter the building and get down to the tougher work of the day. Walking through a maze of circuitous routes our team worked our way back down the corridor and into the Pentagon center courtyard. By this time we had almost forgotten about the acrid smoke we had been breathing and even pulled down our make-shift undershirt material face masks. At about 4:30 or 5:00 p.m. it became evident that our work of lifesaving had run its course. There were no more persons to be removed from the rubble. We all agreed that it was time for us to leave and let the fire and rescue people take over. Upon leaving and walking back up the hill to our hotel I remember thinking that my 9/11 work was complete. Goodness, but how wrong could a person could be?

For days on end I contemplated how people of faith, people who affirmed the Abrahamic faith which Jews, Christians, and Muslims embraced, could do such a horrible thing. Now, I'm not necessarily naive about people who do bad things. After all, when I was younger I spent the better part of a year in Vietnam being best friends with an M-16 rifle and a 50 caliber machine gun. I learned plenty about the bad things people, me included, can and will do.

But somehow this was different. I wondered if maybe President Bush could be wrong, and we were in a religious war.

Something was happening in my psyche and in my soul. It was as though I was two persons: light and darkness. I was trapped in my own dualism where two competing opposites held me in tension. This was a type of dualism that had captured many Americans. Back in those days right after 9/11 the smart money was for the darkness to win.

As a priest of The Episcopal Church and a Navy chaplain, I knew that my vocation was to embody, to incarnate God’s grace and forgiveness. Out of the light that was in me, I could affirm such divinely inspired and generous thoughts. However, there was also darkness. There is a ponderable and somewhat strange quotation of Jesus in the Christian Gospel of St. Matthew. Instructing His disciples about their mission, Jesus said "...whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven." (Matthew 18.18, NRSV). From the dark side of my being I wanted to bind those folk and those who sent the aviators-for-a-day to kill; bind them over to hell. I began to wonder if the Islamic people with whom I was familiar were engaged in a coordinated sham to deceive us; that somehow they were all behind everything we had experienced on 9/11.

Out of my darkness I wanted to get even. I wanted to make "those persons" pay for the pain they had caused us. In one of my darker moments, I even contemplated the idea that our wayward bus driver was a part of the scheme. You can believe me that it took a pretty vibrant imagination to entertain the bus driver plot. Actually I learned that when you are living in a world that is dominated by darkness that it's not such a fantastic reach after all.

Instinctively I knew that I had to break out of this dark funk, but how? I prayed the Daily Office of Morning Prayer from my Episcopal prayer book each morning. That didn't do it. I led and attended public worship services. That didn't do it. I talked with a therapist and with my closest friends. Even that didn't do it. What could I do?

Desperately I needed a change of heart. Yet I found that the change would not come easily or quickly. For months I grappled with what had by then become a spiritual dilemma in my life. Then without warning I got a jolt to my soul that awakened me to a new vista; a new way to move into a greater understanding and grasp of God. In my role as a leader of Navy chaplains I was visiting the military chaplains assigned to our new Joint Task Force detention facility at the Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Ever since the facility opened we had assigned a Muslim military chaplain to be on staff and work with the detainees, suspected terrorists of whom almost all embraced the Muslim faith. Upon arrival I was told that there was significant conflict between the commander of the detention facility and my Muslim chaplain. Though to this day I am still not clear about precisely what caused the conflict, I was very aware that in the end a significant part of the problem was based in the commander’s distrust of a Muslim chaplain. On my second day I ended up standing between, quite literally, the commander and my chaplain. Instinctively I knew that as a leader I had to stand up for the person for whom I was responsible. Well, that was it! At that moment the darkness in my life began to ebb away, the light began to shine.

But why? How? The change began when I was able and willing to sacrifice some of my own safety and security, and stand up for a chaplain for whom I was responsible but with whom I had religious differences. That day God had led me to the point at which I had the opportunity to sacrifice my comfortable, condescending, and divisive views about all Muslims. I learned that day that once I could affirm my chaplain, my Muslim chaplain that I could begin to be transformed so that in my soul I could see more light than darkness.

That day I began my journey of learning that at times I have to sacrifice my needs in order to affirm and care for the other. I began learning that the affirmation of our spiritual differences is the only vehicle through which we can build the framework for common ground. That day when I practiced the affirmation of my Muslim chaplain I learned that I could affirm his spiritual needs when I didn't even understand or share those needs. I began to learn that to do anything less, and to try to base our relationship entirely upon our a quest for common ground ends up being little more than a self-fulfilling utilitarian quest in which I have regard for the other only when I can get what I want.

Some of my fellow Christians may believe that an unrestricted affirmation of the other’s spirituality will diminish a believer’s faith and belief. I can only respond that in my own life experience I have experienced something quite to the contrary. Not only does such affirmation and recognition not diminish my Christian faith; if anything it has enhanced my faith. As I guard and stand up for the other, the one who believes differently than me, my own faith grows.

Now it is starting to dawn upon me that two thousand years ago when Jesus was telling his people that whatever they bound on earth would be bound in heaven, He was talking about the work of being aware of the evil in our midst and in our own hearts, and to behave in such a way as to bind it from spreading and multiplying. Day in and day out the federal chaplains whom I serve in the Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs, and Federal Bureau of Prisons are doing the work of binding darkness and being ambassadors of light. Though I can only hope and pray that their work and ministry will hasten the reign of the Lord God in our midst, I know for certain that as they become light in the midst of extreme darkness God’s light has begun to shine.