Bishop's Blog

Bishop Scarfe shares his experiences, reflections, and sermons.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

More news of mass shootings

No one wanted to wake up this morning to the news of more mass shootings, this time in Dayton and El Paso. And certainly not after a joyous wedding celebration the night before of our friend Mel Schlachter and his new bride Ellie Butz.

I can assume that we are directing our prayers into our worship this Sunday. But do we call our senators back to do their duty in passing legislation sitting on their desks for universal background checks? Do we seek the resuming of bans of military-style weapons?

“Guns don’t kill people; people do” and if so, then let’s detach people from the guns and do the reputation of the guns a favor. Other nations do it well while also honoring the recreational use of guns.

There are deeper issues as well that relate to our addiction to violence and the cultural conditions that stoke racial hatred and create mental imbalance and alienation.

Even as a news show was focusing on the shootings this morning, we switched from a serious interview to a commercial in which a personified “Mayhem” vandalized a person's property and car! While Mayhem laughed as he drove away, the hapless victim was encouraged to buy insurance. It’s time for All State to ban Mr. Mayhem and for us to insist that violence is neither trivialized nor normalized in the media.

And it is time to prioritize the emergency that our own version of terrorist cells of white nationalism pose in our midst. Of course, we could begin to profile young white men but that would only continue to stoke the racial divide that the terrorists seek to promote until a race war breaks out. For a member of an inter-racial family as I am, that’s the worst of all worlds.

And I realize I haven’t mentioned Jesus as yet. Maybe that’s because I think he weeps. Because he knows the resolution to all of this is in our own hands. May we deploy the Spirit of our baptism that is “not of fear but of resolve (or power), love, and sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).

In the peace and love of Christ,

The Rt. Rev. Alan Scarfe, Bishop of Iowa

For resources on addressing gun violence visit

Gun Violence Archive lists 252 mass shootings in 2019 (defined as any incident in which four or more people were injured or killed by a gun, without including the shooter).

Friday, August 2, 2019

August 2019

In my former years of engaging the government, media, and the public on behalf of religious freedom in Romania and other countries, I learned that journalists called August the “silly season.” A favorite story of what could happen in August was of a British reporter assigned to Czechoslovakia who was at a loss for news-worthy content that month. He made up a story that an entire “lost” brigade of Napoleon’s army had been found at the bottom of a frozen lake! Everything had been preserved by the ice. He made up a detailed accounting of the lost brigade that had wandered off-route heading to or returning from Russia! To his shock, he received a wire from head office indicating “Photographer being dispatched immediately.” To which he as quickly replied, “Lake in forbidden military zone!”

Of course, we don’t need a silly season any more. It seems that our newsfeed is in constant motion,
throwing up “the precious and the vile” as Jeremiah would say it. Discernment between the two is
becoming a daily spiritual practice. Our prayer for people who impact public opinion is helpful in setting
out our values as people of faith: “Almighty God, you proclaim your truth in every age by many voices: Direct, in our time, we pray, those who speak where many listen and write what many read; that they may do their part in making the heart of this people wise, its mind sound, and its will righteous; to the honor of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen” (BCP, page 827).

In a time when we all have access to impact public opinion, this prayer assumes a personal significance
for each of us. And it is often in the silence of God’s Spirit accessible in our own hearts that we better discern that direction—more than in the clamor of the whirlwind, or the shaking of the earthquake. We are all capable of indulging in silly seasons, but for those who work for the Church, it is not in August.

In August, our congregations are often preparing for formation classes and program offerings for the year. The month of August is always taken seriously in diocesan affairs as well. It’s a turning point, as we as a staff along with Convention Committee Chairs, turn to preparations for Diocesan Convention, and making sure everything is lined up so that we can take our various vacations and be set for the two-month run-up to Convention after we all re-gather after Labor Day.

Our theme for Convention and for the year ahead is “Finding the Simple Way.” It seeks to build on what we anticipate to be the inspiration from our keynote speaker, Shane Claiborne, who lives in a community which is called “The Simple Way.” I have been encouraging us to prepare for his presence with us by entering into a Summer read of his book, The Irresistible Revolution. We also hope to welcome the new Bishop of Nzara, Richard Aquilla, whose people certainly know how to be a vibrant Church on so many fronts in the simplest and most gracious of ways. Bishop-elect Richard will be consecrated on August 10th, as the whole House of Bishops of the Church of South Sudan converges on the Cathedral compound of All Saints, Nzara. The Diocese of Iowa will be represented by Elizabeth Popplewell, President of the Standing Committee, together with her husband Dennis, and also Bob North. We look forward to their joyous report as well as greeting Bishop Richard in person in Iowa.

For this Convention I am also inviting each church to report on our diocesan vitality at the congregational level. We have celebrated so many wonderful ministries this year through Engaging All Disciples, and I would like us to capture it in one document. Please look at the vitality survey, and find the appropriate person or persons to submit your report. It is our hope that the report will help us celebrate together, share our challenges, and inspire us by catching a glimpse of the Spirit at work across our diocese.

I give thanks to God for each of you for all you bring to the life of the Church, and wish you rich blessings as you move more deeply into the late summer days of August.

In the peace and love of Christ,

The Rt. Rev. Alan Scarfe, Bishop of Iowa

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Plumb Line

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

A plumb line hangs in St. Peter's Episcopal Church
 in Bettendorf, IA
“This is what he showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord said, ‘Amos, what do you see?’ And I said ‘A plumb line.’ Then the Lord said ‘See I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass them by…’” (Amos 7:7-8).

You may recall these words from Sunday’s Hebrew Scripture reading. The phrase “never again pass them by” was the link with the Gospel passage for the day—the story of the Good Samaritan. That is probably one of two parables of Jesus most of us can tell ourselves; and, if we are honest, tell on ourselves. The question, who is our neighbor, was dropped over the plate in every pulpit across the Church, on a weekend when the entire nation was asking that very same question. The image of the plumb line and of God standing, interestingly “beside a wall,” begs another question: how upright is this society we are building? Against the backdrop of the demands of justice, the upholding of the dignity of every human being, the seeing Christ in each other, the insistence of the Way of Love, against this plumb line of baptismal promise—how does what we are building fare?

We all face moments, situations and people which we pass by at our peril. One such moment was created this very same weekend, with the President’s outrageous and race-baiting calls for four elected Congresswomen of color to go back to where they came from, and the very public, fear-mongering declaration of increased deportation activity, specifically in ten American cities. Of course, the Congresswomen are citizens of the United States and this is their home. And the fear-mongering was precisely that, fanning the divisions among us as we try and work out a just approach to the inevitable movement of people in a world ravaged by war, crime and climate displacement. 

Last Friday evening, I stood with more than three hundred others outside the Polk County Jail, participating in a vigil for those who have died in detention centers as they sought asylum in the United States. We heard written testimony of those who were experiencing life separated as families, or vulnerable in under-resourced and overcrowded centers. High School students cited their own poetry about the inner and outer conflict faced as Mexican Americans in a country that “loves tacos but hates the people who make them or serve them.” Standing next to me was a clergy person from the Diocese whose placard read “Prophet not Profit.” And this is the Good Samaritan challenge for us as Christians—dare we hold God’s plumb line in our hands and ask the question it begs of our representatives, institutions and of one another?

We as a Diocese are not untouched by the stuff that is swirling around us. At one Convention, I had guests at the banquet table including the Bishop of Nzara, the retired and current bishops of Swaziland, our guest speaker, an African American Bishop of the United Methodist Church, and my wife and daughter. “Looks like you have to be black to be at the bishop’s table,” someone was overheard quipping. If I had heard, my response would have been, “And you have to be black to be a member of my immediate family.” Being told to go back home can come from any direction—I have received such invitations from the liberal side for not following their form of correctness, and I have received them from conservatives for my “liberal ways” and especially my approach to gun safety. 

So, where and how do we hold the plumb line? How do we find the courage not to pass by the suffering on the road? Love is an act of will not emotion. And one simple act of love for the human condition is not to let this moment pass us by. 

There are people who can help us. One of the most impactful diocesan institutions to be established in recent years is the Beloved Community Initiative located in Old Brick, Iowa City. Its founders, Meg Wagner and Susanne Watson-Epting, have gathered a broad range of advisors from the diocese and the community to create a multi-faceted community initiative that embraces our racial past, asks the questions of reconciliation and reparation to native and former enslaved peoples, and seeks to educate the Diocese on how we might work at dismantling racism. Visit their web-site and see their great work. Sign up for the dismantling racism workshops when they come to your Chapter. Others, like young people at the Cathedral in Des Moines, have joined hands with partners like the American Friends Service Committeewho were the chief organizers of the vigil last Friday. Or look out for the next “We are Church Confessing” gathering. These young people from the Cathedral simply offer to accompany members of the community on their appointments to the immigration office. Visit for resources to support you and church in action.
Some of you joined me in 2016 as we gathered in chapters around my visitation schedule to look at how totalitarian states on the right and left, in the Twentieth Century, coopted the mainstream Churches and national traditions and pride for their own end. We studied the thinking and evolving response of men like Dietrich Bonhoeffer who were setting up a plumb line for their time. The teaching may have seemed alarmist, and its implication to be a lack of trust and understanding of the power of democracy. But it was and remains a plumb line; and one which marks the current state of affairs to be tilting dangerously. 

Jesus responded to every question of the lawyer who wanted to know how to live the perfect life with his own question. He asked the lawyer to delve into what he already knew—what does the law say? “Love God with all of your heart. And with all of your soul, and with all your strength, and with all you mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” This was what the lawyer’s own understanding already told him. These were his values; but they were limited through partisanship. Hence when Jesus affirmed his initial response, he gave his bias away by asking, “Who is my neighbor?” We are all each other’s neighbor across the planet, not just across our backyard fence or in the PTA or at Church. Those are the places we may nurture our capacity to neighborliness, but the range of the invitation is much vaster. 

The early Church knew what they were doing when they called Jesus “Lord.” They lived in a time when only one person was entitled to that name—and that was the Roman Emperor. He was a man who ruled by fear, kept politicians in his back pocket, loved triumphal processions, and distracted the people by encouraging them to enjoy as sport seeing their enemies and their despised denigrated and destroyed in the amphitheater. To say “Jesus is Lord” was to hold up another standard by which even the Emperor was to be judged. It also got you into that amphitheater.

God did not pass by, neither did God’s people; nor does God today nor, can we. In the end Jesus made the lawyer a simple request. Having clarified who was his neighbor, and having identified him, through story, to be the anyone, regardless of where he came from and his personal identity who acted in compassion and mercy to the anyone, regardless of where he or she came from, found beaten and discarded at the side of the road, Jesus said “Go, do likewise!” And so He says to us—you know what is written, to what you have promised, now go do likewise! 

In the peace and love of Christ, 

The Rt. Rev. Alan Scarfe, Bishop of Iowa

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

July 2019

“Then he showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There shall no more be anything accursed…” (Revelations 22: 1-3a)

This was John’s invitation to walk the heavenly streets in the midst of bloody times at the turn of the first century. The shameful and angry images that cover our air waves and social media pages today remind us that behaviors which we would wish to think are things of the past can very quickly rise again to the surface and bring their hatred, violence and disruption.

On the eve of the celebration of this people’s independence from monarchical rule, we are invited to our own walk in the heavenly streets, through the gift of the expression of the values we embrace in our prayers for this nation, each of which is in itself a call for vigilant and constant action.

“Lord God Almighty, you have made all the peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace; Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.” (BCP 258)

Even for our enemies, we pray, “O God the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth; deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty and revenge; and in your good time enable us to stand reconciled before you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen”(BCP 816)

For those serving in places of incarceration or detention, we pray these values: “When any are held unjustly, bring them release; forgive us and teach us to improve our justice. Remember those who work in these institutions; keep them humane and compassionate; and save them from becoming brutal or callous.”(BCP 826) 

And finally, in our thanksgiving litany for this national life of ours, we conclude, “Help us, O Lord, to finish the good work here begun. Strengthen our efforts to blot out ignorance and prejudice, and to abolish poverty and crime. And hasten the day when all our people, with many voices in one united chorus, will glorify your holy Name. Amen.” (BCP 839)

In the peace and love of Christ,

The Rt. Rev. Alan Scarfe, Bishop of Iowa

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Humanitarian Needs at the Border

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

It seems as if more information is being made public each day about the inhumane conditions that exist in seriously overcrowded ICE detention facilities. We know that children and families who are coming to our country looking for safety and protection are becoming sick and dying while in detention. We know that governmental lawyers are arguing that children do not need to be provided toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, or bedding in order to be called “safe and secure” in a government detention center. And we know that politicians in Washington are currently debating over how to release resources to address the urgent humanitarian needs of the people who are being detained. 

Our Presiding Bishop has joined with a diverse group of faith leaders in a statement to express our collective outrage and pain over the treatment of those seeking asylum at our borders, and urging the Administration “to maintain its commitment to international law and defend human rights by implementing safeguards to ensure the safety and health of all of those seeking protection in our land, especially those children who fall under our care.”

How best can we respond from Iowa, as followers of Jesus who says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of the sight to the blind, and to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19)?

As I did a year ago, when news broke about families being separated at the border, I commend the list of resources at to you and your congregation as you look for ways to take action. In 2016, a Pew Research Center report indicated that there are 50,000 undocumented immigrants here in Iowa (accounting for about 2.2% of our workforce). On IowaShare you will find resources to help your church to welcome, support, engage, and serve those families in your midst. Included in this email are other resources to assist you and your congregation in advocating for people currently in detention. 

The photo of the young father and his daughter from El Salvador who drowned arm in arm at the edge of the Rio Grande heartbreakingly illustrates the desperation of families seeking asylum in the United States and the danger they face. As hard as it is to look at that photograph, we must, reminding ourselves of Jesus' words, that what we do to the least among us, we do to our Lord.

May God give us the courage to follow the Way of Love, speak out against injustice, and find ways to welcome and serve those seeking to be our neighbors.

In the peace of Christ, 

The Rt. Rev. Alan Scarfe, Bishop of Iowa

Little children, let’s not love with words or speech but with action and truth. This is how we will know that we belong to the truth and reassure our hearts in God’s presence. —1 John 3:18-19 (CEB)

Contact Iowa representatives and senators to thank them for taking up an aid bill and urge them to reach an agreement to provide humanitarian aid for those being detained and immediately address the unsafe conditions at detention facilities.

Learn more about border ministry and advocacy and how The Episcopal Church is responding to humanitarian needs at the border by registering for this webinar.

Become a member of Partners in Welcome: a network and learning community dedicated to welcoming newcomers, empowering advocates, and supporting local ministries.

Donate to funds like Iowa Justice for Our Neighbors or the Eastern Iowa Community Bond Project that assist community members in need of legal bond, representation, or legal counsel. Bonding out our neighbors detained by immigration and connecting them with lawyers gives them the best chance at remaining members of our community and helps keep families together. 
Share with your congregations the wide variety of resources available from the Office of Government Relations.

Use the resources from Episcopal Migration Ministries in adult forums.

Check out the resources for church leaders on

Explore the small group curriculum, Discovering and Living God’s Heart for Immigrants: A Guide to Welcoming the Stranger, available from World Relief.

Share this list of resources for immigrant families in your midst.

Examine the toolkit from Detention Watch Network and the Immigration Detention Transparency and Human Rights Project to help groups organize and advocate for an end to abusive detention practices.
Do you have a resource to share that you or your congregation have found useful? Let us know at

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

May 2019

John the Evangelist concluded his Gospel by writing “This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them down, and we know that his testimony is true. But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” (Jn 21: 24-25).

If we were to write down our epilogue on the good news of Jesus Christ expressed among us, I wonder if we would have to make the same observation. The Parochial Reports doesn’t quite get it done, but it is trying to learn. There is now space to pay attention to those who come to us or with whom we interact beyond worship—for food, clothing, healing prayer, the fellowship of a visit to them in the hospital or in prison, counseling or friendship. It is a shame that we are not asked; “What signs and wonders has the Risen Christ done among you this past year? What have you and the Holy Spirit witnessed together?"

What if the baptismal covenant questions framed the annual report—how have you walked in the Apostles’ teaching, breaking of bread (there’s an ASA question, I suppose), and the prayers, or resisted evil, confessed the Good News in word and deed? And how have you upheld everyone’s dignity, and served Christ in others as you worked for justice and peace? It’s a way of life, this following Jesus, and how do we organize ourselves to that end?

The Christian Way is a spiritual and philosophical process. Our thoughts matter, our spiritual struggles matter. And we need to be allowed and allow ourselves to own up to it. Thomas did in the Easter story; and Jesus did not tell him that he only had one shot at a resurrection appearance. In fact Jesus made a repeat appearance just for Thomas. Now, Thomas was in community on the second occasion, and that seems significant. Eventually getting back to the group is an important thing, no matter how hurt, disillusioned, confused, disappointed they may have been with how things turned out on that horrific Thursday night through Friday.

The early church was a community; they were witnesses of God’s living presence among all people; and they came to understand that all of this placed an accountability upon them—even in recognizing the authority of God over that of human authorities, as they encountered governmental resistance.

It’s an equally incredible challenge on us to follow Jesus in our day and make that pursuit a way of life. We face attachments and resistance of a different nature—chiefly our interconnected economic system based on the consumer model. We are attached to the accidental nature of our births that set us up in nations and tribal groupings that equally make demands upon our allegiance and representation. It’s hard to engage as disciples when at times we don’t know where to begin, as followers of One who we say is Beginning (Alpha) and the End (Omega).

The answer may be to notice where Jesus began again. He appeared to His disciples. And then appeared again for the one who was not there! In Jesus’s kindness to Thomas, He placed each and everyone of us in that room. “Blessed are you who have seen and believed, but even more blessed are those who have never seen, and yet believe” In other words, He was speaking about us, about you and me!

So given this choice as a Body, how do you want to engage yourselves, and one another, as disciples? How can you, where you are, organize in a way that creates a community that focuses primarily on the mission of God? Don’t let parochial reports drive you. What must we grow out of to sharpen our engagement as disciples? Let us, each and all, organize so that the work of witnessing to the Risen Christ is our focus. After all, He makes us reconcilers or a “kingdom of priests” (go-betweeners, people-God connectors), a community that knows and shares forgiveness, a people whom God loves and who express that sense of being loved in our own attitudes and actions of loving. And who in the world could contain such testimony—not even perhaps the internet Cloud itself?

In the peace and love of Christ,


The Rt. Rev. Alan Scarfe, Bishop of Iowa

Sunday, March 31, 2019

April 2019

On Tuesday March 19th I met with members from the congregational cluster of St Paul’s, Council Bluffs and St John’s Glenwood. The people from St. John’s had had to come a circuitous route because of the closed roads in the region due to flooding. They were also tired from becoming a distribution center for blankets, clothes, tarps, water and food. They were themselves cut off from fresh water supplies. The other cluster congregation is St. John’s, Shenandoah, and they were unable to make the journey at all. The senior warden was busy mopping out flood water from her business office, and the priest, Holly Scherff, was occupied with being our diocesan point person for the SW region flood disaster relief. Holly had been mulling over God’s impeccable timing, as she returned to a flooded area from a Disaster Relief Training Conference in Chicago. In fact, her hour long drive home took twice as long as she navigated flood detours to get home in the dark.

These are still early days for our response. As Holly wrote for the clergy listserve:
“As many of you know, SW Iowa has several communities under water. The water has started to recede and clean up has begun and yet there is still much Spring to endure. Iowa has shown its true colors by providing these communities with all they need and more. Much more, in fact, to the point that we no longer know what to do with it all.  Currently if you feel compelled to help in some way, please consider a donation to the Bishop’s Crisis Fund [payable to Episcopal Diocese of Iowa, 225 37th St., Des Moines, 50312], which is an internal diocesan fund for emergencies like this, or to Episcopal Relief and Development. As the mucking out progresses, needs will arise, and I will do my best to keep you informed. Prayers for endurance and wisdom are appreciated.”

Holly has been attempting to contact the twenty Episcopal congregations which she has identified within the fifty-two counties that the Governor has proclaimed as disaster areas. Many of our congregations are small and do not have office staff during the day, and so communication has been difficult. I encourage you, if you are a congregation in one of those counties to reach out to her at 515-227-6940, or at Also, The Episcopal Church has been building an asset map of all its congregations (that the “find a church” button on the website links to) which could be utilized more easily for such a challenging occasion like this, and it is sadly underutilized and under-informed when it comes to our Iowa congregations. It is a site which invites each congregation to fill out information about locations, and so this would be a good time to be reminded of its potential importance to us all and to invite you to find someone who might be willing to put you on the map.

Unfortunately, the worst is not behind us, and the flooding is spread up the western part of the state, and into South Dakota and Nebraska Native lands. As we are planning a visit by partners from the Episcopal Relief and Development US Disaster Program in the second week of April, we hope to bear those areas in mind as well. So, please be in touch; do not be hesitant in reaching out for assistance for yourselves and for your neighbors or community. In the meantime, Holly reminds us that
“it is helpful to remember that one of the guiding principles of the Episcopal Church in responding to such disasters is to ask the question ‘who is it in the community that are the most vulnerable, most hidden from the public eye, and under-served?’”

To this end Jesus calls us “o’er the tumult.”

In the peace and love of Christ,


The Rt. Rev. Alan Scarfe, Bishop of Iowa

Click to learn how to update the Asset Map for your congregation!