Friday, May 24, 2013

"Thank You for Supporting the Mission in the Dominican Republic"

I want to say thank you for the wonderful retirement celebration on the eve of the Electing Convention, and for the money that was collected for the mission work in the Dominican Republic – $8,500. This money will be used for the building of San Simon Church and School – a mission project we share with the Episcopal Dioceses of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan (click here to go to the D.R.E.A.M. website).

I’ve seen in some of our own communications that the San Simón mission is described as being located in “a suburb of Puerto Plata called San Marcos.”

To describe it as a suburb doesn’t do it justice. The people there are very poor. The church they’re using now is a small cinder block garage that they’ve converted. The area is a pocket of extreme poverty, and the church and school that’s being build will provide a better education for the children than the Dominican Republic schools can. 

All the children will be required to study English. The church and school will serve as a hurricane shelter that will be sturdy against the inevitable winds and floods that come each year.

The main thing I want to say about the electing convention is that I trust the work of the Holy Spirit as the People of God gather in community to worship, pray and vote. I trust that the Holy Spirit is already at work forming Bishop-elect Hougland and the Diocese of Western Michigan, and that great contributions to the kingdom of God are waiting to unfold as Bishop and Diocese work together.

Saturday at the convention, I could watch the movement of the Spirit, as the votes began to change. 

It is now time for me to decrease my presence with you, and for Bishop-elect Hougland to increase as he prepares to lead the diocese into the waiting future. You have elected well.

I talked to him on the phone late Saturday afternoon and offered my prayers and my support, as well as my assistance in any way that will help benefit him in the transition.

I’m happy to begin to welcome Whayne and Dana Hougland to the Diocese of Western Michigan because I am sure there are great things in store, and I look forward to watching them unfold.

Bishop's Book Recommendation:Wisdom from the Monastery: a Program of Spiritual Healing, by Peter Sewald

Friday, May 10, 2013

My Prayer for the Electing Convention

I’ve heard from several people who attended the Walkabouts last weekend say that they were taken aback by the quality of the candidates for ninth bishop of the Diocese of Western Michigan. Some of them said they had gone in thinking they knew which candidate would get their vote, only to leave with their mind changed, or not sure anymore! This is good. It says that many of you are open to hearing and weighing … and open to the kind of discernment that is paying attention to the movement of the Holy Spirit.

My prayer is that everyone will do the same, to discern what this diocese needs, what the Church’s mission needs, rather than what is wanted.

The Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer reminds us of the mission of the Church:

“The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” Also, “the Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace and love.” (p. 855)

So, the church needs the vision, resources and people to accomplish the mission. The work of the electing convention has already begun and will be fulfilled on May 18th when the bishop who will lead you more fully into this mission is elected. The work, which has already begun, is the work of Scripture study, prayer and listening to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

As Christian community, we are called to be in the world but not of the world. The world’s values are not shared by the Church. In fact, what we value is often in direct opposition to what the world (secular society) values. The most emotionally- and spiritually-mature among us are able to distinguish between these two opposing sets of values. They are able to sacrifice wants for needs, individual good for common good, ego for the humility of following a poor and enlightened Messiah. As we mature in our faith and spiritual life, self-interest fades away. We begin to see more clearly God’s plan – God’s will. In short, we can see beyond ourselves.

You may have read about my swimming pool analogy in a previous blog post, where I said that a church is like a swimming pool. All the noise is at the shallow end. It’s where you will find an abundance of self-interest, inflated ego, secular politics, and all the values that go with these. I believe that as a Church, we need to be in the deep end of the pool, which is a more challenging place to be. It’s a place where we find the maturity and depth to which God constantly invites us.

It is my intention not take part in the voting May 18th. This is your decision about the mission of the Church and the future of the diocese. My prayer is that all will be in mature discernment before and during the election process.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And you will renew the face of the earth. Amen.

The Rt. Rev. Robert R. Gepert, VIII, Western Michigan

Bishop's Book Recommendation:"Falling Up" by Richard Rohr

Saturday, May 4, 2013

"Introducing Sister Linda-Susan and Sister Diane"

My last confirmation service was Saturday, April 27th. The liturgy was just glorious and worshipful – it felt like a glimpse of what the kingdom can be like. We had a very mature group of people who were making promises they intend to keep. It wasn’t about making ceremonial promises – the stuff you stand up and say because it’s written in the book. It felt like the promises were being made from the heart. I commend the clergy of the diocese for sending a mature class of people, and for continuing to help people in the work of making mature commitments, which I know they will do.

We confirmed people. We received people from other denominations, while others reaffirmed their baptismal vows.

Also that day, we received the sisters of the Emmaus Community and Monastery into the Episcopal Church from the Roman Catholic Church.
Sisters Linda-Susan and Diane were received into the church, and took their vows as well. I know many people in the congregation that day had questions about the only sisters in the Episcopal Church in Michigan. Sister Linda-Susan has written an eloquent essay about their journey.

– The Rt. Rev. Robert R. Gepert, VIII, Western Michigan

A History of the Emmaus Community

Sr. Diane Stier and I met in 1979 at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.  I was an English professor and she was completing her doctorate in developmental psychology.  Both of us were planning on entering contemplative monasteries and were introduced to one another by the Carmelite Monastery of Indianapolis, Indiana, where Diane planned to enter.  I was headed to another Carmelite house.  The Indianapolis nuns were so taken by the “coincidence” of two women – both bound for the cloistered life – sharing the same space that they suggested we come together for prayer and daily Mass, which we did.  As time passed, the novice mistress of the Indianapolis Carmel came to believe that there was more than happenstance in our shared vocations.  Sr. Joanne suggested to us individually that God might be calling us to find a way to live contemplative life outside the walls.  When that idea was seconded by two other nuns, independently of Sr. Joanne or one another, we knew providence was in process, though our reactions were like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus: broken hearts and excruciating disappointment.  Each of us had felt called to the convent from very early years – Diane at the age of 12 and me at the age of 8.  What were we supposed to do with such long years of vocational discernment and the request to reconfigure how to live as contemplatives-in-the-world without the structural support of established tradition?  There was no blueprint and we were completely at the mercy of God.

Thus began Emmaus Monastery while we were still resident in South Bend.  We discerned each component of what this new community might look like with prayerful and direct advice from the Carmelites in Indianapolis.  We thought that the community would need a religious rule with the flexibility for the experiment ahead and decided on the Rule of Saint Benedict.  Then Emmaus needed to find its home on a farm in a small, rural community.  Neither of us had financial resources for the purchase (or lease) of farm property – and bit-by-bit providence made money available to us through loans from family and friends so that we could make a down payment on a 40-acre farm in Vestaburg, Michigan.  I was offered a teaching position at Michigan State University to help support the new endeavor and we asked the Diocese of Grand Rapids to assist us in moving toward our goal of becoming a monastic community.

It took 17 years for us to work through the necessary processes to become a private community with judicial person and a canonical part of the Diocese of Grand Rapids.  In all that time we made first vows, with permission, in April 1983.  We made the Benedictine vows of stability, conversion of life, and obedience for three years according to the Rule of Saint Benedict and the Constitution of the Emmaus Community. Shortly thereafter we began an Associates Program for “lay contemplatives” who felt called to live contemplative lives in the world.  In 1987 we made permanent vows, with permission, promising to be faithful to contemplative prayer and to the fruit of that prayer lived out in service in unusual settings, focused particularly on those outside the usual reach of church ministry.  As members of Emmaus we were particularly attuned to the workings of the God of the unexpected, the Stranger of the Emmaus account in Luke’s telling.  For Sr. Diane, that unusual location was the state bureaucracy where she serves as a licensing consultant for adult foster care homes.  Her responsibility is to protect the needs of the vulnerable adults who live in such circumstances.  For me, that location was the world of higher education, particularly in the privileged sector of elite liberal arts colleges. I have been an English professor at Bryn Mawr College for 20 years now, going back and forth between the College and the monastery such that I spend about half the year in one place and half in the other.  Sr. Diane has been a consultant for about the same time during which she survived the challenge of two breast cancers and two mastectomies.

With the help of two very generous Episcopalian benefactors, we were able to add to the original acreage about 15 years ago so that Emmaus Monastery (click here for map) is an 80-acre complex with a convent (called Marcella), two guest houses – one cottage and a second 3-bedroom home (Bartimaeus and Elizabeth), and a 3-bedroom hermitage.  People come to Emmaus for retreats, days of recollection, workshops, reading groups, prayer groups, and parish meetings.  We have always wanted our facilities to be available in the spirit of Benedictine hospitality and have never charged fees for use of the property, but accepted donations and stipends.  We have lived in this way in the corner of Montcalm County for 30 years during which we have helped support ourselves as music ministers for the two nearby Roman Catholic parishes, Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque and Saint Bernadette of Lourdes.  I have also participated in training as a spiritual director and I offer the directed retreats for individuals and groups.

Our discernment to seek a home in the Episcopal communion has been a long eight-year process set in motion by a number of factors: the silencing of conversation about women’s ordination, the responses to the pedophilia scandal, the Catholic Church’s teachings about birth control and homosexuality, and the gradual erasure of the liturgical, ecclesial, and spirituality changes wrought by Vatican II.   Sr. Diane has felt a lifetime call to priestly ministry and she was able to function pastorally in our area for 30 years in her roles as chaplain and president of Hospice and in the request by area families, churched and unchurched, to help them through the dying, death, and bereavement processes.  Just as a dying patient was about to make a confession, however, after an intimate conversation with Sr. Diane, however, she would have to stop the exchange and find a sacramental minister who could actually perform the sacrament of reconciliation.  This was often a disruption of the trust established, especially if the priest available was a stranger.  Such encounters reminded her of her own call to priesthood and the final irrevocable teaching that women’s ordination was as serious a moral evil as pedophilia.

We remained convinced of our monastic calls and sought guidance from a number of sources (including long term spiritual guides and directors) about a new home where we would be able to continue our sacramental theology and our liturgical lives while opening up spaces for the free exchange of ideas, for honest and respectful dissent, and for growth in the Spirit.  Sr. Diane also hoped to test her vocation as a priest.  Never in our lives had we imagined making the journey from Rome to Canterbury, but we found ourselves increasingly in a crisis of conscience about following the call of the Spirit in the straightened circumstances of an increasingly silencing and repressive ecclesiology.  We discovered a way to become more “catholic” by attaching ourselves to another part of the Christian communion, one that could be home, familiar, and welcoming of the gifts of soul and intellect God had given us.

We have been very discrete about the journey from Rome to Canterbury because it is not our intention to make any commentary on our Roman Catholic inheritance.  We also wish to be deeply respectful of those who disagree with this phase of our Emmaus “on the road” movement or who feel betrayed or wounded by our departure.  We make this journey in faith and in trust and we carry in our hearts all those relationships of the past 30 years.  We are praying that, in time, any ruptures experienced by those heartbroken, as were the first Emmaus disciples, will experience resurrection healing.

– Sr. Linda-Susan Beard, EC

Friday, April 19, 2013

My Last Annual Convention

The EDWM’s 139th Convention is upon us – my last annual convention as your bishop.

When you know you’re leaving, you begin to note all the events that are last events. As I look around me at these last events, I see so many friendly and supportive faces – people I will miss. Believe it or not, I will actually miss additional conventions.

At the same time, I’m looking forward to the lasts, because there’s something calling me for the future.

On Saturday at convention, I will elaborate a little bit about what the diocese has done for me, how it has changed me, and how it has been a part of my formation and development.

Even though these are the final months of my episcopacy, they are greeted with expectation and hope for the future, not just for me, but for the diocese.

I’m looking forward to seeing everyone this weekend, and hearing Margaret Marcuson’s presentation. Like me, she was a student of the great Edwin Friedman. She speaks and writes on leadership and works with faith leaders across the nation. She is both the leading Diocesan Formation Day at the Dominican Conference Center on Friday, and is our keynote speaker at the convention on Saturday. She is the author of Leaders Who Last: Sustaining Yourself and Your Ministry.

With the business of the 139th convention behind us by the end of the day Saturday, I, like many of you, look toward the Special Electing Convention to follow on May 18th, where a choice about the future of the diocese will be in the hands of the delegates elected by all the parishes in the diocese.

My hope is that it will be a spiritual event, with careful discernment about selecting your new leader, your new bishop, based on needs rather than wants, thinking and praying about how the church in western Michigan can move solidly into future mission.

I think we are on a solid ground to be able to do that.

The schedule for that day will begin with a Mass of the Holy Spirit in which our prayers and hymns will focus on awareness of the Holy Spirit within us and among us
The electing convention will be structured in such a way that we will continue in both silent and public prayer, calling upon the Holy Spirit to help us select the person God would want as bishop in this diocese.
We will trust the decision we are making is the decision prompted by the Holy Spirit.

The Mass of the Holy Spirit will include a confession by the bishop and absolution from the people, and a confession by the people with absolution from the bishop.

The end of the Mass of the Holy Spirit will include a symbolic and liturgical ending of my episcopacy (even though I am fully aware that I have Episcopal duties that need to continue). I really want the focus of the electing convention to be on welcoming your bishop-elect, not additional good-byes to me.

The night before electing convention is a retirement celebration with hors d’oeuvres where Anne and I will greet people at 7:00 p.m. at Grace Church in Grand Rapids. In lieu of gifts, we have requested that donations be made to the Michigan tri-diocesan Dominican mission project, for the building of San Simon church and school.

The Rt. Rev. Robert R. Gepert, VIII, Western Michigan

Friday, March 29, 2013

"Knowing resurrection: God's redemption in our own lives"

March 29, 2013 bishops blog image 24At 64 years old, I’m still figuring out the living words of our liturgy and scripture. It speaks something different to me at 64 than it did at 32.

Last Saturday, the diocese hosted Spirituality Day in Newaygo, and I had the opportunity to go deeper into my own understanding of the resurrection as I listened to Marilee Roth’s presentation on the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. She asked us to ponder the meaning of the Memorial Acclamation “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” She asked, “Why do we say Christ will come again?”

The new insight that I found was that Christ comes in the bread and wine, and in the community gathered, again and again.  Whenever we gather as Christian community we are the Body of Christ.  As the Body of Christ we are part of that Memorial Acclamation.
  People are often afraid to ask questions about resurrection. They shouldn’t be. I believe the most important question is how do we see resurrection in our own lives, in what ways have we suffered, in what ways have we died, and in what ways have we been raised to new life?

As a priest, I’ve had the sacred privilege of being with dying people who see their relatives. My own grandmother said to me on her deathbed, “There’s Grandpap by the window.” My grandfather – her husband – had been dead for years.

I stupidly said to her, “Where?” And she looked at me like are you nuts, he’s right there! She said, “There he is by the window.”

John Shea, one of my favorite theologians, says death is the way that we join those who have gone before us and resurrection is the ability to be present everywhere at all times.

I love the resurrection because it means Jesus is present everywhere, for all people, at all times.

I say often that the only thing we have to preach is death and resurrection, and God’s redeeming power. We all experience resurrection when we’re able to connect our story with THE STORY, and we’re able to see God’s redemption at work in our own lives. We begin to understand that God has turned something disastrous into something that provides new life.  That is THE STORY of the gospels and OUR STORY as well.

Understanding the ways
in which OUR STORY can be overlaid on THE STORY and how THE STORY can be overlaid on OUR STORY, we are able to become gospel witnesses. We can then talk about how we use our experiences, and our knowledge of what God has done for us in our darkest hours, to bring hope to others who have yet to know God’s redeeming power.
At Spirituality Day last Saturday, we talked a lot about connecting OUR STORY to THE STORY.

When you’re older, you think more about your life because you’re closer to your death. When I look back on my life, I see how I was prepared for just about everything. I recalled my own experience at the Spirituality Retreat when I told the students that being the oldest and only boy in my family, with five years distance between me and my oldest sister, actually prepared me for the task of being a single dad to girls, even though I remembered my mother telling me “a man can’t raise children.”

Things happen in life, and later we can see how life prepared us, however uncomfortably.

I have also known people who bleed their whole lives, unable to accept the gifts of healing and new life, perhaps because no one has witnessed to them that new life follows suffering and death – perhaps no one has taken the time to help them connect their story to THE STORY.

In Holy Week, we get to see the courage and the serenity of Jesus, as an example for our Christian life. When we exhibit courage and serenity, it’s infectious.

Again, I ask how do you see resurrection in your own life, in what ways have you suffered, in what ways have you died, and in what ways have you been resurrected to new life?

When we connect OUR STORY with THE STORY, our faith is strengthened.  And it’s so much easier to move on in life, after experiencing difficulty and despair, knowing that new life awaits and will unfold for us.

On the Sunday of the Resurrection we celebrate that Jesus joined those who had gone before, – that Jesus is risen and present to all at all times and in all places, -  and that Jesus will be present with you as you gather with Christian community.  We celebrate all this with the hope that it is the same for you and me.  Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.  And to that we add a joyful, Alleluia, Alleluia!

Below are some comments from students at the Bishop’s Spirituality Day:
“I was impacted by the discussion as well as the comfort of being around fellow Episcopalian people.  Since I am being received, I was able to be surrounded with my new spiritual family and to participate in conversation with them.  I felt blessed to be there with them.  In addition, I was impacted by the Stations of the Cross activity as well as the new knowledge of resources for daily prayer.  I think one of the most lovely experiences for me, however, was the Lighting Ceremony.  It was very peaceful and full of meaning.  It was wonderful to watch others light their candles and to light my own candle as well.  What a wonderful day!” Angie Leuchtmann
“I have been Episcopalian from birth - baptized and confirmed - and am now a candidate for reaffirmation. If I had to pick one thing I came away with, it is the information given to us about Daily Office. We learned many different ways to access Daily Office, as well as how to navigate it. The reason this is significant to me is because the tradition in which worship is accessible everyday now. Devotions and contemplative prayer are now the supplements as opposed to the daily prayer for me.” – Scott Leuchtmann

Recommended Reading:
The Dishonest Church by Jack Good

A very happy Easter to you from the Bishop’s staff at the Episcopal Center!
The Rt. Rev. Robert R. Gepert, VIII, Western Michigan
The Rev. Canon William J. Spaid
Mary McGuire
Molly Ettwein
Genevieve Callard
Tammy Mazure
Cathy Rhodes
The Rev. Karen McDonald
Karmel Puzzuoli

Friday, March 15, 2013

Understanding the Church's Dark Night: A Reflection on Owens and Robinson

bishop's blog image 23At the last Province V Bishop’s Meeting, the Rt. Rev. Todd Ousley, Bishop of Eastern Michigan, shared an article he obtained from the ecumenical magazine The Christian Century. The article, titled “Dark Night of the Church,” by L. Roger Owens and Anthony B. Robinson, expressed my own beliefs so well that it became the inspiration for my presentation for Leadership Days in Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids and Traverse City.

Owens and Robinson compare the message of the poem “The Dark Night of the Soul,” written by the monk St. John of the Cross in the 16th century, with the current declines in the church. They ask, “Is there a dark night of the church? Are we experiencing it? Is God at work wrenching our alluring memories of social prominence and significance from our minds, ripping dreams of fame and fortune from our imaginations?”

The Episcopal Church was once characterized as a church of status, with a disproportionate number of members with wealth or political position. Even President Gerald Ford was a member of Grace Church in Grand Rapids.  The elaborate buildings and stained glass windows in our churches point to a time of past affluence. 
Prominent figures, such as Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Thurgood Marshall were Episcopalians. But the question that Owens and Robinson ask, however, is whether the trappings of prominence, significance and affluence have separated us from God and the mission of the Church? 

In my travels around the diocese, I’ve been to churches in which I’m the youngest person there. That doesn’t bode well for the community of faith! High numbers of aging members is one piece of the “lexicon of decline” identified by Owens and Robinson, in addition to an absence of young adults, financial crises and a rise in conflict in our congregations – all of which I have seen myself.

But St. John of the Cross said in “Dark Night of the Soul” that we should rejoice, even as he sat locked in the monastery basement for accusing his brothers of not honoring their promises to the Benedictine rule of life.

St. John of the Cross identified the Dark Night we experience in our lives as the journey our soul takes from its bodily home to its union with God in love.

Think about your own dark night, a time in your life when you were confused, scared, and there was chaos all around you.  You wondered how you would make it through.

But at the end of your dark night, you got a new life. That new life may not have been better or worse, but it was different. You now think differently than you did before that dark night.

Jesus too had a dark night. First there was a betrayal, then the passion, crucifixion and death. But after, there was new life. Telling that good news is, if anything, our primary responsibility – to help people understand that suffering and death happen, but the end result is new life. It happens over and over again in the journey toward the end of our own mortal lives.

Because we are an individualistic society, we often mistake the purpose of the church to be for our comfort. I once asked the junior warden of one of our downtown churches where she envisioned their church in five years’ time.

Her response? “Everything has changed,” she said. “I want things back the way they were.”

A leader in another church asked me what they could do about their decline. He said, “We need more members because we need seven more pledging units to make our budget.”

Further, churches have conflict over detaching from buildings, music programs, altars, the Prayer Book – things external to Christian community. But I agree with Owens and Robinson; God is doing something in the midst of that anxiety.

“The church is relearning that its essence lies not in its programs and accomplishments, its activities and accolades,” write Owens and Robinson, “but in the truth that ‘she on earth hath union with God the Three in One,’ and that God is enough.”

Most of you know Anne and I will move to Lancaster, Pennsylvania upon my retirement this summer. Lancaster is known for its Amish community, so I’ve become somewhat enamored of the Amish and have been reading a book called The Amish Way.

I’ve learned that
the Amish worship for up to three hours every other Sunday. They own no church buildings, but instead worship at each other’s homes where they gather as many as 200 people at a time to hear the Gospel, pray and sing. While some people do join the Amish faith, their goal is not to convert people to the Amish way, but to live into the teachings of Jesus, particularly those set forth in the Sermon on the Mount.

Our church cannot remain
the same because God’s mission is not being accomplished. There are way more important things than the building, the bell, or the $3 million organ.

On page 855
of the Book of Common Prayer, we are told: “The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”

Our denomination is getting smaller, and I don’t think it’s a bad thing. God is speaking to us through the decline, and if the result of that is a deeper commitment to the mission of God, that is a cause to rejoice.

After his dark night, locked in the basement of the monastery, St. John of the Cross reformed the Carmelite order. After his dark  night, Jesus rose from the tomb. What will the church be after its own dark night?

It will rise to new life, become more committed and live into its promise to reconcile people to each other and to God.

The Rt. Rev. Robert R. Gepert, VIII, Western Michigan.

Bishop's Presentation on the Dark Night of the Church

Friday, February 22, 2013

"Believing Everyone Deserves Dignity, Respect, and Has the Love of God"

In this week's blog, we wanted to highlight one of our most successful ministries as a diocese, our health ministry. The reason it has been such a success can be directly attributed to Deacon Karen McDonald. Karen really embraces what it means to be a deacon. She is not afraid to go into places where others don’t feel safe, which is most often with the very poor and the mentally disabled.

Karen is a shining example of how a deacon can bring the kingdom into existence, not because of what she does as an individual, but because she calls others into action. She has a cadre of lay people who help with blood pressure checks, foot care clinics, exercise classes and vegetable gardens on behalf of the poor. She also empowers the poor who live in low-income apartments and homeless shelters to organize and advocate for their own well-being.

Karen is not assigned to a parish but to a ministry. Ideally, I’d like to see a health ministry in a city of every deanery of our diocese. It’s a successful ministry because it frees us to work with a broader population, both in terms of who we serve, but who we call to serve alongside us. The following is an article about Karen’s ministry by our communications assistant, Karmel Puzzuoli.

The Rev. Karen McDonald, deacon for health ministries, comes into the EDWM offices, sits down at her telephone, and hastily begins making calls.

“Would you be interested in donating flats of tomatoes for our vegetable garden?” she asks someone. “Can you bring your sphygmomanometer for our blood pressure clinic? We just have the one, and I think I need another one” she implores in her second call. Before she takes a breath, she makes another call. “Can the doctor call me back? I’m trying to find a podiatrist who will donate services to a homeless individual.”

These are just some of the things Karen does before we have a chance to say hello.

Karen is EDWM’s deacon for health ministries. It comes naturally to her, ingrained in her since she was a child worrying about the well-being of her elderly neighbors or young friends who lived on the poorer side of her hometown of Buchanan. Nevertheless, becoming a deacon and answering the call to serve has been an uphill battle.

Raised in a time when women were expected to limit their goals to motherhood and domestic life, Karen struggled with restlessness and anxiety. Her husband Jim asked her why she wasn't content as a wife and a mother, but she found it difficult to express why staying home with her children wasn't enough for her. She loved her family, but also wanted more. Many things outside the home called to her.

“My own mother never worked her whole life – her world revolved around her family . . . and knitting and sewing and cooking. But I didn’t enjoy those things, except for cooking,” she said.

While her children were young, Karen worked off and on in nursing jobs or in public health. When the demands of home life forced her to leave a job, she often did her ministry “in the closet,” taking cookies and food to struggling families, buying mattresses for children who had no bed, even when it caused friction in her marriage.

In the early 1990s, Karen became a care manager for people who had HIV/AIDS, in a time when fear over the transmission of the virus still persisted, and HIV-positive and AIDS patients experienced a great deal of marginalization in society. She even lost friends over it.

“That’s when I realized I could have great compassion for people,” she said. “When gay men would tell me their stories, I realized they just needed a listening ear, someone who would help them access the services and care they needed. I guess I found I could be an advocate for people. I learned ways to navigate the system for funds, medication, and the help of infectious disease doctors. It wasn’t a chore for me. I enjoyed it. It helped to make someone else’s life better.”
Karen first heard the call to become a deacon in the 1990s. She was ordained in 2001, and began serving at St. Mark’s in Paw Paw. She later served at St. Barnabas in Portage. In February 2010 she was assigned to the diocesan health ministry, and started working in the EDWM offices regularly in January 2011. She has been married to her husband Jim for 52 years, and they have three grown children. Jim has struggled with dementia for years, and Karen balances her time between her health ministry, family, and advocating for Jim’s needs in the nursing home, which now includes hospice care.
Karen’s health ministry work includes regular clinics at the Skyrise apartment building, which houses low-income elderly and disabled residents. She organizes blood pressure checks, foot care clinics, exercise classes that strengthen and reduce the risk of falls, public safety presentations, healthy-eating (on a budget) classes, and a vegetable-garden in pots for residents during the summer.

“Even though the people at Skyrise have some health insurance, like Medicare or Medicaid, they still have difficulty getting into the system in appropriate ways,” she said. “They still think that going to the emergency room is a good way to get care, but they need to see their doctor regularly. Sometimes they just need someone to ask them if they’re seeing their doctor or taking their medication, someone who cares.”
Karen also arranges foot care clinics she calls “Foot Spas” at a drop-in daytime shelter for the homeless called Ministry With Community.

“It’s wonderful to watch Karen and her nurse volunteers help the people at Ministry With Community,” said Anne Gepert, a regular volunteer there. “I was moved when I watched these three nurses helping with calluses, toenails, and massaging lotion into feet that walk the streets all day. I think you have to be a caring person to do that.”

In addition, Karen’s work includes service on the board of directors of the United Interfaith Free Healthcare Clinic, which will with God’s grace open soon in Kalamazoo, providing free care to the uninsured and underinsured. She serves on the board of InterAct of Michigan, an organization helping and advocating for the mentally disabled and those suffering from substance abuse. And she is also a trained facilitator of The Living Compass spirituality program, which promotes a spiritual approach to healthy living. (Some of our parishes participate in The Living Compass). She also facilitates PATH (Personal Action Toward Health) classes for the underserved, which teach vulnerable people how to take responsibility for their health and set goals for themselves. Karen maintains contact regularly with a spiritual director.

If you are interested in learning the ways you or your parish can serve the poor and disenfranchised in your community through a health ministry, email Karen by clicking here now, or call her at the EDWM offices at (269) 381-2710.

Recommended Reading by the Rev. Karen McDonald
The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully by Joan Chittister

– Robert R. Gepert, VIII, Western Michigan