Bishop Miller (Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee) urges clergy and laity to support Senate action on gun control

Here”s his letter to the Diocese:

June 17, 2016

Dear Friends in Christ,

Yesterday the members of Bishops United had our monthly phone conference. Our discussion had a renewed sense of urgency because of the Orlando Shootings and renewed efforts to pass common sense gun legislation by member of the Senate.

If you haven’t had a chance to keep up with recent developments, including Senator Christopher Murphy’s 15-hour filibuster that stretched until about 2 am and produced an agreement to get gun violence prevention legislation onto the floor of the Senate, here’s an New York Times story with details:

This is perhaps the best opportunity we have had since the defeat of Mancin-Toomey to move gun violence prevention legislation forward a peg or two on the federal level. The horrific massacre in Orlando has changed the climate in which this legislation will be considered.

Today, I write you to ask to contact Senators Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin before Monday at noon asking them to support legislation that will

  • Make it illegal for people convicted of violent hate crimes to buy or possess guns
  • Make it illegal for suspected terrorists to legally buy guns
  • Require a background check for every gun sale, no matter where you buy a gun or who you buy it from

In particular what we are asking is for Congress to pass what is being referred to as Brady Bill 2.0, (S 2934) which would require a background check for any gun purchase and S 551, which would prohibit individuals on the FBI’s terror watch list from buying weapons. (The shorthand here is No Fly, No Buy.)

There are a number of ways to find your senators’ contact information. Here, for instance, is a directory of phone numbers and links to email forms: However, probably the best way to be in touch with senators is through the website of one of the large gun violence prevention groups such as the Brady Campaign: or Everytown:

Both of these pages provide a little coaching instructions for those who would find that helpful. One of the advantages of placing the call with the assistance of the Brady Campaign or Everytown websites is that they are able to estimate the volume of calls they have generated, and those numbers, if they are large enough, can help to change wavering senators’  minds. Additionally, you can sign up for text alerts so you know when it might be helpful to make another call.

If you find that a senator’s voice mail or inbox is full, you can fax them at:  You can call one of the senator’s offices in your state during office hours.

One important point: it doesn’t matter whether you already know how your senator is going to vote on these bills. Volume is important. So please be in touch with those who are co-sponsoring the bills (to thank them) and those who will never vote for it (just so they will know you are out there).

Thank you for joining me in this important work.

Yours in Christ,

The Rt. Rev. Steven A. Miller

Bishop of Milwaukee


Making Sense of the Mess at General Seminary

I’ve got no wisdom on this awful, heartbreaking, embarrassing situation, knowing almost nothing about GTS except being acquainted with several alums. But I’ve been asked about it by some folks, so I thought it might help to point people to pieces that have helped me understand something of the situation. The first, most important, and perhaps only necessary thing to read is Crusty Old Dean’s ruminations.

Crusty reminds us of several important facts: 1) That even in the seemingly stable and everlasting Episcopal Church, institutions come and go, including seminaries. It may be that General is simply not going to survive. 2) That this conflict comes at the nexus of two significant transformations in our society–the changing role of religion, especially mainline Christianity and the transformation of higher education. Seminaries are caught up in both of these larger cultural forces.

3) (Although Crusty doesn’t explicitly say this)That this conflict, and the quick escalation to “firings” or “resignations” reflects the corporatization of the church and the academy (see the discussion of the Task Force on Reimagining the Episcopal Church for more of the former). In the place of conversation, prayer, and discernment, we have lawyers (on both sides).

I agree with Crusty’s assessment that General may not survive this and that there will be repercussions throughout US theological education for years to come.

Derek Olsen discusses the significance of the changes in corporate worship and daily prayer for the overall life of the seminary and the formation of the students.

The faculty have put up a website that offers some of their perspective.

And The New York Times has an article providing background, including the news that the Seminary Board of Trustees will meet with the faculty.

Oh, and by the way, according to the GTS website, Bishop Miller of the Diocese of Milwaukee is a member of the Board of Trustees.

Bishop Miller’s decision on same-sex blessings

Bishop Miller has finally published his response to the Standing Committee’s report from July, 2014. He has decided to permit clergy to bless the civil marriages of same sex couples:

As chief pastor, I have to balance my own theological conviction with humility, and a willingness to create space for those who disagree with me. I must also consider what is best for the diocese. My personal position is that, given the disputed witness of Scripture and Tradition in this matter, I see the blessing of same sex couples by the Church as a pastoral provision, informed by modern insights into human sexuality and human development, not unlike the blessing of marriages of persons who have been divorced.

Therefore, after much prayer, consultation, and reflection I am willing to allow clergy of this diocese to bless the marriages of same sex couples who are civilly married.

He has also issued a set of guidelines to be used by clergy and parishes for the blessings and a form to use. The complete document is available here: Response to Standing Committee Same Sex Blessings.FINAL

No doubt we will be talking about this at Grace in the weeks to come.



Still dithering in Wisconsin

An article in today’s Wisconsin State Journal profiles the responses of two of my Madison colleagues to last week’s court decision striking down Wisconsin’s ban on same-sex marriage. Andy Jones, Rector of St. Andrew’s, had this to say:

The Rev. Andy Jones, pastor of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Madison, would like to perform same-sex marriages but his denomination does not allow it. The Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee, of which Madison Episcopal churches are a part, also prohibits same-sex blessing ceremonies, although other Episcopal dioceses allow them.

“Longtime members of St. Andrew’s — faithful, committed couples — long to have their church community affirm who they are and to have their church bless their relationship,” Jones said. “It pains me that I can’t do that.”

The article also quotes Miranda Hassett, who showed her support at the City-County building last Friday: “It was really important for me to be there as a priest and as a progressive Christian,” she said.

I share their views and point out this from Bishop Miller’s letter of 2013 on same-sex blessings:
Furthermore, I stated my belief that the right to a civil marriage should be available to all people, regardless of sexual orientation and that I would support those seeking to overturn the ban on same-gender marriage in Wisconsin.
 You can read it all here:
Meanwhile, the Attorney General is threatening to prosecute County Clerks who issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. My friend, Scott McDonnell, Dane County Clerk, responds:

Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell said the possibility of prosecution “doesn’t keep me up at night.” McDonell, a Democrat andthe first clerk to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Wisconsin, called Van Hollen’s claim of possible charges ridiculous.

“He needs to call off the dogs and turn off the fire hoses,” he said, invoking extreme police responses to some civil rights protests of the 1960s.

My message to members and friends of Grace Church in response to Bishop Miller’s letter

My previous post extracts several paragraphs from Bishop Miller’s letter and links to the full document.

For whatever reasons, there has not been a great deal of energy around the full inclusion of LGBT persons in the life of the church at Grace. I have not been approached by couples seeking the church’s blessing. I received very few questions and had few conversations last year during the run-up to and after General Convention. I do know that parishioners have a variety of views on these issues. Our disagreements to some degree mirror the disagreements in the wider church and in our society. I also know that men and women of good will can and do disagree on these issues as on many others and that the positions we take are in response to our desire and efforts to live out our calls to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

I am your pastor. I seek to be the pastor of everyone who enters our doors in search of God’s grace and love. I know both the power and fragility of the love of two people and I know how important it is that a couple can find support for their relationship in the body of Christ. That there are couples among us whose relationships cannot be acknowledged and blessed publicly saddens me to the core. It goes against my theology, my experience of the Gospel, and my model of our life together in Christ. I will continue to try to welcome, affirm, and be pastor to everyone—singles, couples, widowed, divorced—who seek to find and live out the love of Christ in their relationships as best and creatively as I can while keeping my vow of obedience to the bishop. And I will continue to pray and work for a deeper and fuller realizing of Christ’s love in all that we as a Church are and do.

Please contact me if you would like to talk about this or any other issue in the life of our congregation or in your personal life. As we continue to strive to discern God’s call for us individually and as the body of Christ on Madison’s Capitol Square, my prayer is the prayer of Jesus that we “may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21).

Same Sex Blessings in the Diocese of Milwaukee (and elsewhere)

An article in today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel informs the wider community where the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Milwaukee, and our bishop, the Rt. Rev. Steven Miller, stand on allowing the use of rites for same-sex blessings by diocesan congregations. The article includes this from Andy Jones, Rector of St. Andrew’s Madison:

“I have people here in my parish – faithful, committed Christians – who are partners in same-sex relationships and long to have their re lationships recognized by the church they love. So I’m really anxious to be able to do that,” said the Rev. Andy Jones of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Madison, echoing the concerns of several pastors in the diocese.

“But the bishop is still struggling with this,” Jones said. “He’s still working it through, and that’s where we are.”

The article also points out that Bishop Miller has yet to announce publicly what he will permit.

Meanwhile, in the wider church the news was released last week that the National Cathedral (in Washington, DC) will perform same-sex weddings (a provision in the legislation authorizing same-sex blessings permitted the adaptation of the rite for marriage in those jurisdictions where same-sex weddings are legal). And Sewanee (The University of the South), owned by 28 Episcopal dioceses, has announced that same-sex blessings will be permitted at All Saints’ Chapel, with the approval of the couple’s bishop.

There’s some question about how many dioceses permit the rites. According to David Virtue, as of December 19, 2012, 69 dioceses allow them. The Journal Sentinel article, citing Integrity, says that 30% of Episcopal dioceses have permitted them.

Breathing life into Diocesan Convention?

Yesterday, the 165th Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee met. Details of the gathering are here.

There were two resolutions: one a change to the canons to permit vestries of six members; the other the annual minimum compensation for clergy. Neither elicited any debate. There were only two contested elections (for a lay member of Executive Committee, and for a clergy slot on Standing Committee).

I wasn’t able to stay for the discussion of the budget but from my twitter feed, it seems that there was little debate on that. In fact, a newcomer to the diocese observed that the explanation of the rules for debate took up more time than the debate itself. It’s as if we were going through the motions–doing things that needed to be done without any energy or excitement.

The only time it seemed the room began to fill with ideas and energy was as we talked around our tables about three questions Bishop Miller gave us at the end of his address. Here they are:

How is your congregation experiencing new life?
How do we, continually ourselves and others to see the new life God is calling forth and deepen our relationship with God?
How can diocesan structures and ministries help you in these efforts?

The questions were oriented toward the diocese’s ongoing strategic planning process in which I participate as a member of the task force.

It got me thinking, though. We’ve been talking a great deal about restructuring the church, on the congregation, diocesan, and church-wide level. Diocesan conventions seem ripe for complete rethinking. Every year, several hundred of the most committed Episcopalian Christians gather in each diocese to elect members to various bodies, debate resolutions, and pass budgets. I’ve never met anyone who said they love the business session of a convention. We do it because we have to do it, because we can’t imagine another way of doing it. But here we are, several hundred of us, gathered to work and worship. We hang out together, rekindle relationships, make new friends. How might we use our time together more effectively: for teaching and learning, for asking big questions and hearing about new initiatives? For praying? Studying the Bible? Instead, we go through the motions of doing business. In our diocese, we hear the Bishop twice, preaching the sermon during the Eucharist and his pastoral address during the business session. Instead of listening, how might we foster more conversation, dialogue, and listen for the movement of the Holy Spirit?

Here’s Bishop Miller’s Pastoral Address to the convention.

Bishop Miller’s letter to the Diocese of Milwaukee

the full text is available here.

A portion of it is quoted here:

As was to be expected the issue that received the most attention in the press was the adoption of Resolution A049 which authorized for provisional use a liturgy and other materials related to the blessing of same-sex unions. l voted against the resolution in accordance with the position paper published on my blog site This paper was sent to the bishops of the Church and many forwarded it on to their dìocese’s deputations. Still the resolution passed and the rites may be used beginning on the first Sunday of Advent with permission ofthe diocesan bishop.

Prior to General Convention wrote and shared with you that “I have learned, in my almost nine years as bishop, that there will be plenty of opportunity to discern how best to respond and follow through on the decisions of General Convention following General Convention, for it is only after convention that we would know what has been approved ond mandated.”

We are now in that time of discernment. To that end I invite the clergy of the diocese to meet with me to begin this discernment. These meetings will again follow the indaba format we used when we gathered before General Convention to discuss this resolution. The first of these sessions will be heid at Good Shepherd, Sun Prairie on July 31st and at St. Bari:’s in Pewaukee on August Elm from 3 to 5 pm. on both dates. I realize that vacation plans may keep some from attending these first sessions. Additional sessions will be scheduled in the near future. It is my hope that every priest of the diocese will be involved in these discussions over the next few months. I also look forward to hearing from other members of our diocese in the months ahead.

In conclusion, 1 would like to remind you of these words from my earlier letter, “As your bishop, I am confident that we will go forward together regardless of what is or is not decided at General Convention. This ability to go forward together may in fact be our most important witness to a world which is more and more divided along economic and ideological lines. Remaining in community with each other is a crucial witness of our understanding of what it means to be the Body of Christ, even when (or maybe especially when) we disagree an certain issues.

Same-Sex Blessings and Marriage: Bishop Miller’s statement

Last week, Bishop Miller sent clergy in the Diocese of Milwaukee a draft letter in which he laid out his thinking on the proposed liturgies for the Blessing of Same Gender Unions, and the evolving understanding of marriage. A week ago today, he met with diocesan clergy to talk about the letter, our perspectives on it, as well as about our pastoral and theological concerns leading up to General Convention and how we might respond to decisions made at General Convention.

It was a very powerful afternoon. Clergy spoke from their hearts, from a wide variety of theological perspectives, and asked hard questions of Bishop Miller and of each other.

Today, Bishop Miller has released a position paper in which he lays out his views and how he expects to vote on the pertinent resolutions. It’s an important document, available here on his blog.

The key elements of his proposal are this:

  • I am wondering if they best way forward would be the proposal and adoption of a substitute to Resolution A049 calling for the amendment of the Book of Common Prayer and the Constitution and Canons to allow for marriage between two persons regardless of sex while at the same time requiring that both parties be baptized, and removing any role of the civil authority. Those who wished to be civilly married could do so if they considered a civil marriage to be most advantageous for them but the Church would have no part of it.  This proposal provided the additional advantage that those who could not be civilly married because state law forbade it or it would cause economic hardship could be married in the Church. As I stated earlier in this letter I propose this because, “it is my opinion that the blessing rite falls short of our call as Christians.”
  • I realize that this means the authorization of a blessing rite would be delayed and that those who have waited for this Church to do so will be told again to wait. However, the provision for generous pastoral response from Resolution C056 would still be in effect, a provision which has allowed for some bishops whose dioceses are in states that have approved same-sex marriage in the civil realm to permit clergy in their diocese to officiate at these marriages and others to allow blessings.

My earlier blog post was in part a response to Bishop Miller’s earlier draft and to the clergy conversation. I repost the pertinent parts:

A theological rationale for same sex marriage has to begin with the nature of God and with human nature. God created us in God’s image, to be in relationship, just as God in Godself is in relationship, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Life-giving, holy relationships are based in mutuality, love, and commitment, and some people can only experience such relationships with people of the same gender. Our fallen human nature and our society make any committed relationship difficult, almost impossible, and any couple needs the support of a loving community and the grace of a loving God to thrive. The church should do all in its power to help such relationships flourish. To forbid the sacrament of marriage to a group of people who need it to thrive and flourish is an offense to God who created us in God’s image, and who created us to be in relationship with others.

The proposed liturgy for same-gender blessings is inadequate. I find it lacking precisely because it fails to locate the basis of human relationship in the imago dei. Instead, it speaks of covenant and blessing (I find it ironic that the same people who praise the liturgy and its theological rationale based in covenant are for the most part opposed to the Anglican Covenant). Frankly, I think the theological rationale for the liturgy is deeply flawed. The liturgy itself is adequate although confusing, but there is a question at its heart, namely why blessing? Why not marriage? On the other hand, the SCLM was specifically charged with developing proposed blessings for same sex unions, not a marriage rite

Given the cultural climate, with many of those who most vigorously oppose same-sex marriage having themselves made a mockery of the sacrament by their own lives (Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich come to mind). Would not a more sacramental, a holy witness be of a couple living out a life-long commitment? Would the church’s blessing of such relationships be a witness and symbol of what marriage might be in this world, instead of the dominant cultural models of short-lived relationships like the recent ones of whichever Kardashian it was, or Brittany Spears? In other words, is there a sense in which two living out a committed relationship for a lifetime, are a sacramental witness to the Christian virtues of love and fidelity, and a symbol of Christ’s love for the church to the whole world?

The question facing General Convention 2012 and the Episcopal Church is how to work with what’s facing us. On the one hand, we have this proposed liturgy for Same Sex Blessings. On the other, there is a continuing push to move toward marriage, and another resolution urging an examination of our theology of marriage. This is work that urgently needs doing. It may be that the outcome of that examination is a revision of our marriage rite, and perhaps our canons. I would like to see us freed from the obligation of serving as agents of the state. I would like to see marriage only as a sacramental rite, which might help us offer an alternative to the contemporary marriage business.

Reforming the structures–what about Diocesan conventions?

So I was sitting in the room today, paying attention to the day’s business and I started reflecting on what we were doing in the context of the larger issues facing the church both nationally and locally. Such issues and the need for change were acknowledged–in Bishop Miller’s sermon last night and address to the convention today, and in Assistant for Congregational Development Peggy Bean’s report as well. Still, that need for change and for thinking about change was not reflected in the business of the day. We elected people to Executive Committee and Standing Committee (as well as other offices), debated resolutions, and passed the budget. It was very much like conventions I had attended in the previous two years in the Diocese of Milwaukee, and before that, in the Diocese of Upper South Carolina.

Two things struck me more than anything else. First of all, the age of those in attendance at the Eucharist yesterday evening. We were old, probably 90% of us over 50. Second, our Eucharist was celebrated in a church that was perhaps a symbol of the church that existed in the 19th and 20th century–a huge edifice, the nave constructed in 1866, capable of seating 400 or 500 people, in a downtown filled with boarded up buildings or, surprisingly, a lively nightlife, if the streets I drove through late in the evening were any indication. In other words, it was a building constructed in a different era, culture, and for a different church. They’re doing something remarkable and new, however, having begun a hospitality center for the homeless this past spring that has seen remarkable growth in the numbers of those involved both in volunteering and those seeking help.

Our conventions–the very notion of them–are a product of a different era, different culture, and different church. They are constructed on a legislative model, necessary of course, but are they capable of being the places in which creative thinking about ministry and mission might occur? We elect officers, debate resolutions and budgets, all the while the hard questions of what it might mean to be the Episcopal Church in the twenty-first century are not being discussed.

What would it look like if instead of debating minimum compensation packages, health insurance, and concealed carry, we had discussions about the future ministry and mission of the Episcopal Church in Madison, Racine, Richland Center, and the Diocese of Milwaukee?

For info on what we did today, here’s the website for Diocesan Convention.

Previous posts on the need for structural change in the Episcopal Church here, here, and here.