Bishop's Blog

Bishop Scarfe shares his experiences, reflections, and sermons.

Monday, December 3, 2018

December 2018

What would it be like to imagine standing within the time frame of the first Advent season? Of course, there is nothing specific to be waiting for; just a sense of confusion, fear, distress, even some fainting fits at the state of the world. We might ask how we got to be where we are? What do we anchor our lives upon? How do we assess what we decide is of value? Change seems to be the prevalent experience, and things of sturdiness in the past are growing fluid around us. We keep on in our religious traditions, with its promises of hope and expectation, but no real signs of responsive intervention or new options from the divine are evident to us.

Yet in the words of the Psalmist, something is stirring. “My body was not hidden from you, while I was being made in secret and woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb; all of them were written in your book; they were fashioned day by day, when as yet there was none of them” (Ps 139:15-16).

Mary knows, and Joseph knows. Elizabeth knows. Three people and some excited angels know that God’s answer is on its way. And so in them and with them, we wait. Light is about to shine in our darkness. That, however, is not the end of it all. It’s the beginning. Another stretch of unknown looms before us.

For after the joy of the Savior’s birth we wait some more—a whole generation in fact, rather like the people of Israel having to spend a generation to reach their promised land. Confusion, fear, distress and fainting fits re-appear, as we wait for Jesus to grow up— so that God can become human like we are and in every way. Another period of things happening in secret and hidden away lies before us.
Finally, that grown up Jesus, God serving humans as a human being and revealing how God is Love, tells us all that there will be times when there will be “distress among the nations, confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken…Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads because your redemption is drawing near” (Lk 21:25-28).

It seems to me that we never stop being Advent people, even as people of the resurrection. We don’t seem to leave Advent in the rear view mirror. It’s the ability to stand and lift up our heads that is different. It’s the assurance that Jesus’ words that have finally come will not pass away. It’s the awareness that God’s Kingdom is always near and our redemption with it, that is our hope, and the hope of the world. So, confusion, fear, distress and fainting from exhaustion are also with us. It’s our alertness that matters, and our opportunity to pray for strength to escape such negativity and always to stand before that Son of Man who is none other than God who cared to experience our existence for the sake of love. And its our faith that confesses belief that “He will come again” to roll up time—with the living and the dead—and weigh it all in the balance of that very same experienced love Incarnate.

In the peace of Christ,


The Rt. Rev. Alan Scarfe, Bishop of Iowa

Friday, November 2, 2018

November 2018

It was a wonderful sight to see the crowds of Episcopalians teem into the Marriott Ballroom for the Sending Eucharist of this year’s Convention. I wish I had been present to greet you as you came off the buses or as you came through the lobby. As Kent Anderson, minister of ceremonies with Elizabeth Popplewell, welcomed our live stream community, diocesan youth and liturgical ministers gathered outside the hall with the Presiding Bishop, receiving instruction from Elizabeth Popplewell to the service that would unfold. I am grateful to Kent and Elizabeth, for shepherding us all, and to all those who took part in this work of the people.

It was a glorious weekend, worthy of all the early planning from a year ago onwards. Much work went into it, not the least being the connectivity project which allowed almost every congregation to be linked with the sending worship. And so, even after remarkably uplifting reports, videos, and addresses of Convention, we still had the final climb of the technological live-stream. It was rather like facing Alpe D’Huez at the end of a grueling Tour de France stage. And with God’s help we climbed that mountain. I am sorry to hear that the live stream did not come through for everyone because of local conditions, and I have heard that some managed to use personal phone hotspots to boost receptivity. On the whole we connected in Eucharistic worship across the state.

One retired priest described his dilemma. He was at a point in his life where crowds, the cost of Convention, the energy required to travel to be present were unsurmountable obstacles. And he wondered where he would worship that day of the Sending Eucharist. Then he recalled, “a picture came into my head of watching an Iowa State basketball game at a local sports bar and of my telling many people that I much preferred, at this point in my life, not to attend large sporting events. But rather to watch (participate) in an important game, locally, with locals, seated at a comfortable table…The answer to prayer! If I felt that way about a sporting event, then surely as an old man—and a priest—it would be good to view the sending Eucharist among friends…..from my perspective 100s miles away, it was great. We sang the hymns and service music well, we laughed, we said AMEN, loudly, we heard and saw the PB Michael. Yes, there were technical glitches but they can be corrected. It was a memorable occasion.”

In Convention itself, we honored Nancy Cogan of Trinity, Iowa City for her more than 14,000 volunteer hours as a visiting hospital chaplain; we rejoiced and congratulated Cathleen Bascom on being elected as the Tenth Bishop of Kansas; we welcomed our companion Bishops from Nzara and Brechin, Samuel Peni and Andrew Swift; and we played with technology some more in utilizing a reporting system called Mentimeter, which offers the opportunity for the whole gathering to see people’s responses to questions in real time. People left Convention making more than 250 commitments to God of mission resolve. Also using Mentimeter, together we created a word cloud of the things that give us confidence and courage to engage in ministry, and top of the list was Eucharist. Love and Jesus were the top responses to another word gathering exercise on how people imagine the Growing Iowa Leader weekends will impact their congregations.

My own address was interwoven with other voices via videos on things like the extraordinary work started by the Beloved Community Initiative, a reflection on General Convention, and Growing Iowa Leaders 2018, and an introduction to next year’s theme of Engaging All Disciples. The address shared our financial aims through GILEAD, the diocesan campaign being launched during Eastertide 2019, and more immediately through the 2019 Budget. 

The Presiding Bishop called us to be God’s witnesses of the Love we find in Jesus. He invited us to engage the Way of Love through turning to God, praying, worshiping, studying, witnessing, serving and resting in God’s grace. And Bishop Swift reminded us at Evensong that often the sweet words of God turn in our stomachs because we seek to follow in an imperfect world and as imperfect people. This was brought home to us as we wrestled with responses to the emerging events around us as we met—transgender discrimination, the responses to the approaching caravan of migrants, and the murder of eleven worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, which happened over the Convention weekend. As Carl Mann wrote in a memorial resolution for Don Twentyman, deacon of this Church and this diocese who died this past year, he is received in the Church expectant while awaiting the Church triumphant. 

It is in this world still struggling with evil in so many forms that the call to witness goes forth. Jesus had no question about the kind of society into which He sent His followers; or into which He sends us. He promises to be with us even to the end of the ages.

A little more than twenty-four hours later, a number of us were at the synagogue on Polk Boulevard in Des Moines in solidarity with our Jewish sisters and brothers, lamenting and reflecting on the murderous shooting in Pittsburgh. I was invited to give a brief statement. As I stood at the lectern, with eleven candles flickering before me, I chose to recall how the day before we entered into the final worship service of our Convention in the Marriott Hotel. I told how we were in two minds about the celebratory final hymn, which also had a Jewish flavor to it. We decided to place eleven candles around the baptismal font in remembrance, and at the same time honor the deep place of our common creation in the image of God, and that the water before us was also the water of life itself. 

In that final hymn, Sharon led us out with the slow, haunting clarinet, and gradually we entered into a place of joy. It was not shallow joy, but provided a depth of spirit because we were willing to sing while carrying our compassion and mourning with us.  And that experience leaves us no doubt that there are many places where we must carry on God’s work of witness to. As a prayer in the New Zealand Prayer Book asks: “God, give us work till our life shall end, and life till our work is done” (125). May that be a prayer we take home with us.  

In the peace and love of Christ,


The Rt. Rev. Alan Scarfe, Bishop of Iowa

Friday, October 5, 2018


October 5, 2018 Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, Companionship is a significant Christian virtue. It stands at the heart of our worship. “Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers?” When we are a companion with someone, we are literally breaking bread with them. In the letter to the Galatians the apostle Paul invites them to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” That law or commandment was “to love one another as I have loved you.” The Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, and especially the courageous testimony of Dr. Ford, opened up cavernous wounds in the lives of many. Memories of similar experiences of trauma and assault, and of times of fearing for their lives, came to the forefront especially for women in all walks of life. For some, years of private therapy have come unraveled in half a day of television testimony. What I had never really understood is the message women and girls have been given, consciously or unconsciously, that they are fully responsible for their own safety. And if that safety breaks down and they are found at the receiving end of harassment or in a compromising situation, the one they are made to feel to blame is themselves. “The hardest thing to do (after my own experience of assault) was not to forgive the perpetrator, but to forgive myself; that I let myself down in not preserving my safety.” This was one comment I recently heard. We know of internalized victimization in matters of racial and classist discrimination. We may rarely however extend it to half of the human race in terms of gender. At General Convention, the Bishops led a “Liturgy of Listening”—a worship service of reconciliation and truth-telling around sexual harassment and assault. Testimony from across the Church was received, and sample letters were read out aloud as acts of witness, of bringing dark secrets into the light of Christ among God’s people. No one chosen to recite a letter stood alone. This practice of standing with a person sharing vulnerable and personally sensitive testimony became practice throughout the more intimate moments of the House of Bishops in Austin. “O God, you manifest in your servants the signs of your presence; send forth upon us the Spirit, that in companionship with one another your abounding grace may increase among us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen” (The Book of Common Prayer, 125). That is an evening collect offered for prayer every night. The Church started out as a place where women found a safe place. Where in Christ our gender identity was said to be indiscriminate. Jesus made the most vulnerable among us feel noticed, loved and protected. As we know the Church has never fully lived up to that ideal. We were soon telling women to cover their heads, and not tempt the angels, and to keep quiet in worship, to submit to their husbands. The new creation God had made in Jesus Christ has taken thousands of years to shine through. But it is beginning to appear. Or at least its implications are beginning to dawn on us because Jesus has been shining through women from Mary at the tomb onwards. No one should stand alone. Christians accompany people because God has come among us. And no woman should think that they bear the responsibility for their own safety among men who are allowed to say “I couldn’t help myself” or “boys will be boys.” One of the actions taken from General Convention was to invite each diocese to look into its culture of bias in relation to women. How affirming are we as a community to women in leadership and especially young women? How safe are we as a community for women whom we invite to be our pastors and spiritual guides? What are the hidden messages of our community in these matters? Dr. Ford may not have been truly heard at the Judiciary Hearing where her testimony was already being drowned out by the noise of our party politics. But through her I began to hear the testimony of others, and the burdensome responsibility we in society make women in particular bear for the preservation of their own safety. I hope that hearing is also a beginning for us men to look more deeply into why we feel the need to impose such a burden in the first place. What are we afraid of? Maybe companionship itself? In the peace of Christ, +Alan The Rt. Rev. Alan Scarfe, Bishop of Iowa

Sunday, September 30, 2018

October 2018

In a very short time, we will be together in Convention with the Presiding Bishop. There are a couple of new things to report about what we will be doing together. And just in case you have not yet heard, I want to repeat them here.

The Diocesan Convention runs from Friday evening through Sunday morning. At 11am on Sunday, October 28th, we are holding one Eucharist in many locations across the Diocese. Every Episcopalian is invited to attend in person the Diocesan Convention Eucharist in the Marriott Hotel in Des Moines at which I will preside and the Presiding Bishop will preach. For those unable to travel, I have asked each congregation to hold only one local worship time at 11am on that day when they can participate in the very same Eucharist that will be live-streamed across the Diocese. Hence, we will be celebrating one Eucharist in many locations. I have authorized worship leaders in each congregation to distribute the elements of bread and wine from the reserved sacrament on that day. It is expected that the elements will be consecrated “in special intention for the upcoming Convention” the week before. Local gatherings will follow the same order of service, enjoy the same hymns and prayers, hear the same readings and sermon from the streamed Eucharist from Convention, and to that end you will receive bulletins to follow along.

I am not sure if a Presiding Bishop has ever been to Diocesan Convention. I know that the Archbishop of Canterbury visited on one occasion. Nevertheless, this will be a new way to experience being One Church in Many Locations, the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement in Iowa. We also want to give the Presiding Bishop as much opportunity as we can to minister among us. He will address Convention on Saturday afternoon at the late afternoon session, around 2:30 pm, just before the break for Evensong. This is a move away from the Convention dinner keynote speaker spot of our usual schedule. It is intended to allow visitors to register and attend Convention for that Saturday afternoon, stay on for Evensong at the Cathedral and then sign up for the evening Convention banquet. This year, the banquet will be “buffet-style,” at which the Presiding Bishop will hold a “question and answer” session at 6pm prior to a more casual, buffet-style dinner. There will be some opportunity during the buffet for informal interaction with him. He ends his evening with the youth. Clergy will have a session with Bishop Curry on Friday afternoon at the Cathedral.

This year we open Convention on Friday evening, October 26th, with a Gathering Eucharist at the Cathedral at 7pm. I will preach and the Presiding Bishop will preside. Convention business begins at 9am on Saturday morning. The Presiding Bishop has been fascinated by our commitment to holding forty Revivals last year, and is eager to hear stories of its impact and about the follow-up sessions, “Growing Iowa Leaders.” He is promoting “The Way of Love,” a rule of life for contemporary disciples. He is committed to inviting all of us to take personally and seriously this life of Jesus offered at baptism and nurtured by the Spirit of God within us. That’s why he wanted the General Convention to hear of our Iowa Revivals and invited me to address the plenary session of both Houses on our experience. He then asked dioceses’ deputations to discuss there and then at General Convention on how to adapt the local revival concept to their situations. I want to hear from Bishop Curry what may be transpiring because of that.

Watch out for revivals! Invariably they have signaled difficult times ahead for society, and for the Church in serving the needs of society. They are not spiritual entertainment, but an aspect of God seeking to find ways to get our attention. There is evidence that other awakenings are happening around us. This has become clear in the energy and creative genius offered to us by the various presenters at Growing Iowa Leaders. Most of them are young people, and mainly women, for whom solutions to sustaining the Church today is a matter of urgency. In Des Moines, an ecumenical group, called together for conversation by Jennifer Harvey of Drake University, is committing to twelve months of public worship witness each first Sunday of the month at 1pm at various locations in Des Moines, and different denominations are invited to take their turn in leading. Their proclamation of “We are Church Confessing” seeks to respond to what they see as “the nation going through an unprecedented and truly devastating and frightening historical moment. This moment is marked by increasing hostility and violence against communities of color, immigrant communities and religious minorities, and attended by evidence that authoritarian tendencies are emerging at the highest levels of government.”  Some of their inspiration is taken from the statement “Reclaiming Jesus” which the Presiding Bishop and several nation-wide denominational and Church leaders developed at the beginning of Lent this year.

It has been a helpful challenge to concentrate on the message of the epistle of James these past few weeks. I take some mild comfort in realizing that James had to say what he did because the early Church, within decades of those who walked and talked with Jesus, and possibly saw Him die and risen, was made up of people like you and me. They showed preference to the wealthy and disparaged the poor; they fought with each other and had to be reminded as to where that anger came from. They had to be warned against the treachery of the devil in sowing seeds of dissension, and about the power of the tongue in reaping a whirlwind of conflict. They had to be told that “thoughts and prayers,” or even a “God bless you” were inadequate expressions of faith when a person’s physical vulnerability remained unaddressed. They were invited to show their faith by their works—to walk the Way of Love in relationships. And all of this was theologically underpinned by a personal understanding and embrace of how God showed them mercy, and forgave them, and provided for them. Is this where we are being led today? To let Jesus be known in us by how we practice upholding dignity, equality, justice, or practice a reconciling spirit and a way of sharing? Our world is larger than that which James knew; and we have no excuses for not knowing what is happening to billions of people in poverty, or hundreds of millions in economic and sexual slavery. If the technological revolution is only a couple of decades old, it stands to reason to me that God is hard at work creating a revived people for our time; and that Jesus’s concept that “by your love, people will know you are My disciples” is being reframed!

It is no coincidence that our Chief Revivalist is coming to Diocesan Convention to help us accentuate our Revival efforts. Don’t let the opportunity to receive him and let him point us to Jesus’ way of love pass you by. It is our time for God’s preparation of us as effective Jesus followers and for “our light to shine forth like the day.”

In the peace and love of Christ,


The Rt. Rev. Alan Scarfe, Bishop of Iowa

Friday, August 31, 2018

September 2018
“Habemus episcopum!” With these words Jeremy Auld, Provost of St Paul’s Cathedral in Dundee, welcomed the participants in the consecration of Andrew Swift as the 155th Bishop of Brechin. Bishop Andrew comes from the diocese of Argyll and The Isles where he was Dean. He exchanges an expansive pastoral area which required overnights and trips by boat and air, for the compact geographical pastorate of Brechin where the furthest of the twenty-three congregations can be covered by car inside ninety minutes. Of course, Argyll traffic and Dundee traffic probably don’t compare.

Symbolizing that God uses the community of the Church to fulfil God’s mission to the wider community of all creation, the vested procession of choir members, acolytes, lay readers, diocesan and visiting priests and deacons, coped diocesan canons and the visiting and Provincial college of bishops marched from Dundee City Hall across a large public square over to the Cathedral. Onlookers who were spending their customary Saturday afternoon shopping or simply enjoying the downtown, were left to enjoy the pageantry. A bagpiper led the group and then stood on the steps of the Cathedral piping until the opening hymn took up the refrain of praise.

It was Anglican worship at its finest. There are seven dioceses that make up the Province of the Scottish Episcopal Church. Bishop Mark Strange is very clear that as Primus, he represents the Province among his peers as a Primate of the Anglican Communion, and among his colleague bishops he is only an appointed first among equals for the sake of Church order. The Provincial College of Bishops can work as one, liturgically, for an occasion like this. For awhile their numbers were down to four, with Brechin, Aberdeen and St Andrew’s in the search process. You could sense the excitement of having a potentially full College with the recent consecration of Anne Dyer of Aberdeen and the Orkneys, (the first woman bishop in the Scottish Episcopal Church) and the elections of Bishops for Brechin and St Andrew’s, Dunkeld and Dunblane. In October it will be St Andrew’s turn to celebrate the consecration of their bishop-elect, Ian Paton. The Bishops formed a semi-circle around the bishop-elect of Brechin throughout the service, being joined by the rest of the visiting and retired bishops for the actual act of consecrating prayer.

As companion bishops, Bishop Ellinah Wamokoya and I were treated with special graciousness and welcome. The tri-companionship between Brechin, Swaziland and Iowa predates official relationship links or companionships encouraged across the Anglican Communion. It is the product of friendships created at Lambeth (1978 between Bishop Righter of Iowa and Bishop Luscombe of Brechin; followed up in 1988 with a mutual invitation to Bishop Bernard Mkhabela of Swaziland). It has endured several changes of bishops, and has increasingly become part of the mission Iowa, Brechin and Swaziland bishops inherit with the episcopal call. Fortunately, our friendships have taken hold and run deep. It would sometime be helpful to receive testimony from those who, over the years, have participated in the mutual mission of the companionship as to how God has transformed their lives in the process. We are blessed in Iowa also to have companionship with the Diocese of Nzara, again through personal relationships with their first bishop, Samuel Peni, who studied in Dubuque and became friends with so many as his ministry called him into the episcopate.

Bishop Andrew indicated his eagerness to be part of the ongoing development of our companionship, arranging for Bishop Ellinah and me to have lunch with his family on Sunday after his colleagues had returned to their Sunday episcopal duties. The next day we met for semi-formal conversation about the companionship—with updates on where we are from Bishop Ellinah and myself, as well as what the people of the dioceses are committed to right now and into the immediate future. We look forward to his visit to Iowa for this October’s Convention and would hope to have him meet with our Companions of Brechin ministry team which is chaired by Jim Conger of New Song Coralville. All three bishops plan to be together at the Swaziland Synod a year later.

The gift of our companionships lies in the exposure to God at work in very differing circumstances across the globe. Our particular triad arrangement works because we can each see one another in various stages of ministry development. We are a potential encouragement to each other to face our local challenges because we see others in their own context tackling their mission. We are all seeking to be mindful of the good news of Jesus who transforms in love through sacrifice and service with a population who has largely forgotten the One who made them in divine image. And if we become too internally focused and wrapped up with institutional survival, our companions remind us of our own calling to be about God’s others in creation. I find a lot of inspiration from Swaziland’s focus on being a community gathered to serve the orphans and widows; to call for gender equality; to be an environmentally conscious “Green Church,” and to grow their economic capacity for self-sustenance using what business and profit-making opportunities might arise. Currently, we have assisted through obtaining UTO grants for a tree-foresting project, and a “piggery” project – how more Iowan can you get. Trinity Wall Street is investing in a hostel for agricultural students attending the University of Swaziland Agricultural Department which is across the road from Usuthu mission, a diocesan congregation.

These are ideas that can shape our thinking as companions as we move forward. Similarly, from Brechin, there is the understanding that mission of all congregations is about their neighbors, and not just themselves. Gathering as a congregation is a means to the end of serving the community around them. I like that very much. We are the only institution called to give ourselves away as Jesus as God did for us all. The Brechin challenge as an ageing church is more severe than ours, and so it is helpful to see how creativity develops as they seek to connect with the younger generations, and break out of the traditional frameworks that are seen as barriers to hospitality. I will let you decide what the diocese of Iowa provides into the equation. We can see ourselves in each of these mission situations. And we are blessed with an economic healthiness that gives us an opportunity to be generous among our companions “for the sake of Christ’s love,” as the Prayer Book says in so many places.

It was a blessing to be invited to Bishop Andrew’s consecration, and to be reminded face to face that we have people who care for us across the globe. The most important aspect of our companionship is, of course, the release of grace provided through the daily and monthly cycle of prayer we offer. If you do not possess a copy of our monthly companion prayer booklet, please ask your congregational leader, or send a request to the Diocesan office. One day Bishop Mabuza was on a bus in an African diocese, where a group of bishops were learning about micro-economics. He was sitting next to a young bishop whom he did not know. As they introduced themselves, Bishop Mabuza and Bishop Peni realized that they had been praying for each other though they had never met up to that moment. They laughed and then spent the rest of that journey working out the phonetics of their clergy and congregational names! We can never underestimate the power of prayer. And if our companions simply remind us that this following of Jesus is not really about us, then that alone is worth the effort of the relationship.

As you have heard me pray before: ”O God, you manifest in your servants the signs of your presence: Send forth upon us the Spirit of love, that in companionship with one another your abounding grace may increase among us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen” (BCP, p 125).

In the peace and love of Christ,


The Rt. Rev. Alan Scarfe, Bishop of Iowa

Sunday, June 3, 2018

June 2018

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

In a month’s time many will be preparing to travel to Austin, Texas, for the General Convention of The Episcopal Church. I will be flying in from England after celebrating a forty-year reunion with colleagues with whom I worked at Keston College. In the 1970s Keston College was the major resource through which information flowed about the conditions of Christians and their churches under communist rule. For three decades now, the Berlin Wall, that great symbol of the divide between East and West, communism and capitalism, faith and atheistic, dialectical materialism is no more. Members of the former Keston staff can travel freely into past communist countries. One colleague has been working on a multi-volume dictionary of the Orthodox Church in the former Soviet Union. Her new Russian co-workers are urgently seeking out and interviewing priests and religious leaders who were courageous people of faith in their time. They are trying to capture the life and conditions of those times before this generation passes. As part of our 45th wedding anniversary in 2020, Donna and I hope to return to Romania where we met and have a look at my own 500-plus page dossier in the Romanian secret police files. I was alerted to their existence by a Romanian researcher who tracked down my name from studying the Keston archives which are now stored for historical and research purposes at Baylor University, in its special department on Church and State issues.

What will we celebrate? I hope that it will be gratitude for the gift of call. The founder of Keston College, Michael Bourdeaux, was himself a student in Moscow in early 1960s. Kruschev was playing both sides of the political scene—keeping a strong arm on his own people while encouraging cultural exchange in return for economic benefits. One of the cultural elements was to invite post-graduate students to study in the Soviet Union. Michael was one of the first to go from Great Britain. He was in the process for the Anglican priesthood and so he naturally gravitated towards the Church. On a return visit a couple of years after his studies, he came across the initial evidence of a new purge of the Church under Kruschev. “Be our voice,” friends asked him. As a result, he dedicated his life to keeping the channels of communication open between Christians and other religious communities of the Soviet Union, receiving and translating the various “self-published” documents, or samizdat, through which brave people shined the truth on what the communist authorities were doing to suppress people of faith. That suspicion of the power of faith became justified on the part of the regimes of Eastern Europe when, in 1989, Christian people helped lead the waves which eventually saw their collapse.

“Fake news,” the communist authorities wrote about Keston’s work at the time. And the Romanian secret police certainly had some fanciful imaginings as to what they thought that I was up to during my time there. Donna, of course, came to a fullness of faith in a Baptist Church in Bucuresti, and was baptized. So we are eternally connected with the people of Romania who took the risk of catechizing a foreigner when we were a potential provocation for police interference. The last time we visited Romania was 1980. I was arrested, and after a relatively brief and mild interrogation, was formally deported. The accusation against me was that I had abused the hospitality of the Romanian government by writing untruths regarding their treatment of religious bodies. That was the accusation. History has shown where the truth lies.

So I hope, as we reunite, we will celebrate the call of God to share in a human struggle, that primarily was not braved by us but by faithful people who refused the aberration of a view of human dignity and identity, even if that view had the entire system of the state to promote it at the time.

All of this reminiscing causes me to wonder about the history we are making today. The Presiding Bishop has joined a number of fellow denominational leaders in composing Reclaiming Jesus: A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis. The statement asserts six basic tenets through which we find the call of Jesus among us. The tenets are: That we re-affirm the oneness of the Body of Christ as reflected in the human race in all of its diversity and a repudiation of racism in all its forms; that we attest to the way that Jesus treated all genders with equal respect, and our rejection of misogyny is a patterning of His attitude; we are called as a priority to care for the hungry, homeless, those living in poverty; we affirm the central importance of truth-telling in our dealings with each other at every level of society; we acknowledge the predominance of servanthood as Jesus’ own leadership style and expectation of his followers; and finally we see how as the people of God we are connected in a global family which has serious implication for the international policies we support.

Why is it considered important to highlight these elements at this time? The introduction to Reclaiming Jesus states: “We are living through perilous and polarizing times as a nation, with a dangerous crisis of moral and political leadership at the highest levels of our government and in our churches. We believe the soul of the nation and integrity of faith are now at stake. It is time to be followers of Jesus before anything else—nationality, political party, race, ethnicity, gender, geography—our identity in Christ precedes every other identity. We pray that our nation will see Jesus’ words in us, ‘By this will everyone know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ When politics undermines our theology, we must examine that politics. The church’s role is to change the world through the love of Jesus. The government’s role is to serve the common good by protecting justice and peace, rewarding good behavior while restraining bad behavior (Romans 13). When that role is undermined by political leadership, faith leaders must stand up and speak out. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state.”

I am reminded that from time to time in recent history, the Church has had those within it whose prophetic voice had to be released. I think of the Barmen Declaration by pastors of the Confessing Church in the 1930s in Germany; and I reflect on the Christians facing oppression in the nations for which we at Keston College worked who refused to reduce human identity and value to an ideological caricature. I also think of Bishop Peni and his people’s daily upholding of peace and safety as a basic human right and whose nightly prayers for peace and protection in South Sudan have real faces behind them.

Will we be gathering in the future for a reunion of fellow strugglers for the Gospel who sought deep change in our society, fashioned by the outpouring of God’s love in Jesus and through the Spirit? Will we have seen walls of separation and inequality broken down, and reconciliation advanced and reparations of the breach restored? We will have that moment, and only because in the present we say “yes” to paying attention to what is going on around us, to embracing our baptismal covenant, and to finding when to declare “enough” to all disparagement and “welcome” to God’s restored image in all.

In the peace and love of Christ,


The Rt. Rev. Alan Scarfe, Bishop of Iowa

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

May 2018

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

“Hubris, my dear boy. Hubris.” These were the words with which my university tutor greeted me after I had failed my Prelim Hebrew exam. I had studied Hebrew during my last half year at grammar school and so had not felt the need to attend any of the offered introductory classes running up to the Prelims after arriving in Oxford. Little did I know that Hebrew was one of those languages that did not easily stick. Now prelims were a big deal—fail the classic languages portion of the theology curriculum and you were out—with the learning experience barely started! So, the Spring term of my freshman year was spent squeezing in extra Hebrew tutorials along with the growing load of studies.

This indulgent memory of personal hubris came up as I watched the various claims of credit for the recent coming together of Korean leaders. Whatever the contributions of the various players in this international game of brinkmanship we are a also a people who believe in the power of prayer. The hawkish exchanges prior to the Winter Olympic Games had driven, I am sure, many of us to a serious sense of the need for urgent and earnest prayer.

The people of South Korea are known for their profound spirituality. Seoul is called the “megachurch capital of the world.” It boasts one of the largest congregations in the world, Young Nak, with 60,000 members. I grew up in a tradition where the prayerful endeavors of that particular congregation were offered as inspiration for the power of intercession. We shared facilities at St Barnabas’ in Los Angeles with a Presbyterian Church which would often have all night prayer services, while we maintained our own orderly hour or so of Eucharistic communion. I often have wondered how God weighs those experiences.

Rowan Williams writes that we don’t know why God answers some prayers and not others, but we have sufficient evidence that from time to time prayer is answered and remarkably so in some circumstances that we are encouraged to keep praying for more of such experiences. That sounds like a very British rationale. Great stories of intercessory prayer often arise during major wars – like Smith Wriggleworth during World War I, or the great Revivals of SE Asia just before the arrival of Chinese Communism and its suppression of religion, or the miracle of Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain.  I know that on the whole it is economic self-interest that turns the tide of relations between nations, as with the end of the Cold War. But we cannot forget the hours of faithful prayer offered by ordinary people for change. It is hubris to do so.

If we are tempted to forget the bigger picture, Walter Brueggemann gives us this warning: “There is something tough and starchy and uncompromising about God, who finally will enact heavy-duty sovereignty in the historic-political process when the mocking has gone on long enough. When great power violates the flow of God’s history, it will come to deep trouble and destructiveness” (A Gospel of Hope 38).

The Korean coming together is a precarious moment, and our pride or self-aggrandizement can unravel it quickly. There are many other places in the world where violence persists from one generation to another, and where we humans cannot get out of our own way.  Millions of innocents suffer in the process. We need to be thankful for those who through intercessory prayer seek to get out of the way, and who seek to put themselves at our disposal for peace-making. Theirs is the willingness to move to one side, and to become one with all who suffer, to embrace the woundedness of the other, and to endure the pain as they bring it into the Presence of the all-loving God. We will never fully understand cause and effect. What we do have are the words of Jesus for this ongoing Easter season: “You did not choose me, but I have chosen you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask in my Name” (John 15:16).

"Whatever you ask in my Name?" We turn to Brueggemann again: “Jesus urges his disciples to be interruptive servants of God, filing claims, seeking justice, crying out day and night, so that the space in the heavenly court is occupied and redefined by appeals for transformative, restorative, justice” (A Gospel of Hope 58).

Today we interrupt heaven for Korea, tomorrow with more intensity, I hope, for South Sudan, for Iran, Palestine and Israel, for the USA and Russia, for all terrorists and the people they terrorize, for migrants sitting on our wall, for all children to be our children, for the poor who march and those living in poverty for whom they march, and that this planet of ours may know our most profound gratitude and care.

In the peace and love of Christ,


The Rt. Rev. Alan Scarfe
Bishop of Iowa

Thursday, April 5, 2018

April 2018

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
On April 5th, we celebrate fifteen years together as Bishop and People of the Diocese of Iowa. I am so grateful to God and to you that we find ourselves in full stride with Growing Iowa Leaders and anticipating what it will mean to Engage All Disciples in the coming year. The consultations that Lydia Bucklin and I have been organizing around the Diocese are very energetic, honest, creative and inspiring conversations. We all truly want to seek God to grow this Church —and not just for survival sake—but that generations to come can connect with the Loving God we know and serve. We are bothered by the reports that that connection is waning, or at least the desire for that connection is diminishing. 
As I sat in the Cathedral on Saturday night during the Easter Vigil, I imagined the centuries of generations who have heard the readings we were hearing. The darkness lit by the smaller candles and centered in the larger flame of the Paschal candle gave off an air of intimacy, mystery and secrecy. That the resurrection Gospel came from Mark’s account only enhanced the latter. After all he produced the all-time Easter cliff-hanger, “for they were afraid” or rather “they were afraid, for….” I encouraged the participants sitting with me in the shadows to be “afraid, be very afraid.” For God who can raise from the dead was at large—and things which were cast down, were being lifted up, and things which had grown old were becoming new. 
In the Roman times, many who at the Easter vigil joined that flow of humanity through the waters of baptism were signing potentially their own death warrant. Persecution could break out at any time, and so they would give thanks for each day that ended in peace, and for each night that had been passed in safety. It has been the same for Christian folk down the years. And, yes, we have global companions who sharing in the Easter joys this year, know that they gather under uncertain circumstances. Their faith in God who raises from the dead and promises eternal life is really life-giving and liberating (to use one of our Presiding Bishop’s signature phrases). 
The crowd on Easter Day at the cathedral was large as usual. Yet this year, more than I had noticed at other times, there seemed to be more new seekers – young professionals who lived downtown, and gay couples no longer afraid to be themselves before the God who loves them and Whom they love, and some who may have wandered away from Church for a while, yet were finding the strength, grace and curiosity not to let the importance of this day pass them by. 
If my hunch is right, I would say it is because of what you as Church are saying in the consultations as we prepare for each Growing Iowa Leaders day. You are saying “we want to know how to tell God’s story and that of our faith; we want to understand the newly maturing generations raised in the digital age; we want to use our time and space differently; we want to become more than an institution and a true serving, loving community present for others; we want to be beacons for justice and racial and economic equality; we want to spice up our liturgy and music; we want to learn how to experiment with small groups and house churches; we want to be followers of Jesus, known for our love of our fellow human beings; we want to become active listeners to those who find it hard to connect with the Church, and in turn we want to know how to welcome,  invite and connect; we want to reimagine our buildings and strategize our finances.” In other words, “we want to make a difference as we move forward.”  
If together it has taken us fifteen years to reach these very yearnings, then it has been time well spent. And as we seek to find suitable presenters to lead the Growing Iowa Leader days in your congregations, in response to your wishes, we are finding that our collective questions are indeed questions being explored by others all across the Christian Church. Praise be to God that we are tuning in to a conversation that, by the grace of God, the Spirit is having with us all. 
In the peace and love of Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Alan Scarfe
Bishop of Iowa

Friday, March 2, 2018

March 2018

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

On March 14th, I am inviting congregations around Iowa to gather and hold a vigil of lamentation for victims of violence across the nation. It is a call sparked by the latest mass shooting in Parkland, and yet the aim is to embrace all victims of violence in prayers that transform us who pray and lead us to hope.

Paul Fromberg, Rector of St Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, and the presenter to the Growing Iowa Leaders Day in Marshalltown on March 3rd, frames the concept of hope in this way:

“Hope is not a romantic notion; it is a tough and scrappy thing. Hope is a function of struggle; it is what is built in us when we strive to do hard, scary things. Hope is not so much an emotion as it is a behavior. Hope comes when people set goals, pursue them tenaciously and with real perseverance, and believe they have the ability to achieve them.  Hope is not how we feel; it is how we think. Hope means learning to deal with disappointment. Hope needs determination. Hope grows as we make an attempt, fail, and try again. Hope requires us to practice compassion. Hope is not a gauzy feeling that things will somehow work out for us. Hope is about struggle. And hope is about relationships. Hope is what makes friendships last over the long term.”

Events of the past week or so have taken me back to the early days of my priesthood. The last of our class of ten deacons was being ordained priest and I was traveling across the hill to Thousand Oaks to participate. News came on the radio that Terry Waite, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s right hand person had been taken hostage in Lebanon even as he had been sent there to negotiate, on behalf of the Archbishop, the release of others who had been kidnapped.

What is the Christian response, I thought? As a human rights advocate in my early professional life, in communist countries, I would have had a clear path of action. But I had left that behind, and had become a priest. Was I now handcuffed to “thoughts and prayers?” Priests gather people for Eucharistic action. We combine our advocacy with thoughts and prayers and the incarnational nature of Eucharistic worship is what we offer. Yes, God may have rooted me on one spot, and restricted my wanderings to a particular parochial boundary and particular cares to a given community context, but there is an offering, “with angels and archangels” that can be celebrated. And so we started a Eucharist of Intention for the hostages in Lebanon every Tuesday evening until their release.

What was our part in the grand scheme of things? God only knows. It was as equally significant as my years spent being a voice among many for voiceless people in a communist society through advocacy, protest and intervention, as well as a little subterfuge. When the Berlin wall collapsed, we were like those who dream. Economics was the primary blunt instrument upon the wall, but millions of brave souls picked away at it over the decades, and even more prayers had weakened it like a dripping stream of water forges valleys over time.

On such experiences we build our hope for the Prince of Peace to establish the kind of society his prophets envisioned. And I have no doubt that economics will be the blunt instrument, as perhaps we are beginning to see now that a group of children have begun to ask the right questions of our politicians and their relationship to legislation regarding gun safety. I am not however just talking about gun safety, but global security. Peace begins when someone somewhere with power lays down its weapons and decides to study war no more. We do not know what lies on the other side of such an act of vulnerability. We do know however that it is how resurrection happens. It is the way of Jesus. 

Let me quote Dr. Fromburg further, “God’s promise is sure: wisdom is justified by her deeds. When we engage the world around us, we are transformed by the engagement. When we press through our fear to see the world as God sees it, we are transformed. When we dare to break the rules, to risk respectability, for the sake of God’s Commonwealth of Peace, we are transformed.”

After Parkland, the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral texted me and asked about coming together for a vigil to honor the victims, as we have done since Orlando onwards. The outcome then was to include prayers and remembrances with a scheduled Choral Evensong on Sunday February 18th. I told him I would also like to propose something more consistent.  After Easter we're returning together to the holding of a weekly Eucharist of Intention, the focus of which I envision orbiting around our issues with violence. I offer it as a place of respite and a gathering of resolve for those engaging society for the “sake of God’s Commonwealth of Peace.”

Until then, and as we pray for the progress of what seems like a genuine reframing of our legislative thinking of gun safety and the various health issues related to gun safety, I invite you to come together in prayer and to let your light for compassion, peace and hope shine across the state on March 14th.

In the peace and love of Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Alan ScarfeBishop of Iowa

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

February 2018

Episcopalians at the Iowa Statehouse for a hearing on the death penalty bill
”Well, here we go again! Looks like the legislature will indeed begin considering the death penalty reinstatement within the next few days. I hope you, and your people, will want to join me in expressing our Church’s opposition to this measure.” These were the words of Bishop Epting, sent out to the clergy of the Diocese on January 31, 1997! And yet today, in 2018, they are as applicable as they were twenty years ago.

“Here we go again.” On February 1, members of the Diocesan clergy sought to make the case against the reinstatement of the death penalty at a bill hearing at the Capitol. I am appreciative to hear that the bill seems to be stopped in committee, thanks to their testimony and that of others. Building the kind of society we value is a difficult task. Our efforts are guided by the message and person of Jesus and yet we reach differing conclusions at the implementation level. Each of us also have different elements of human inter-connectedness that grip us as worth more of our energy and commitment than expressing our grocery line opinion.

In 1998, we had at our disposal the legislative watch of the Ecumenical Ministries of Iowa. Through that organization we could share our passionate interests and also keep each other from growing weary in our well-doing across denominational lines.  I am grateful today for the work of Connie Ryan of Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, and our own Wendy Abrahamson who serves as our eyes and ears on Capitol Hill. I invite you to join Wendy and me for the second annual gathering of Episcopalians on the Hill over breakfast at 8:30am on Thursday February 15th.

About the time, in the late nineties, Iowa was wrestling with the question of the death penalty reinstatement, we in California were talking about the impact of immigration on our culture and the value or not of English only propositions. Even more locally, at my home parish of St Barnabas’, we were engaging in a motion made at a vestry meeting that “the homeless were to be discouraged from our parish functions.” We agreed to spending two months for vestry members to engage church members on the issue, and then we decided that we would take it up again at the third monthly vestry  meeting. During the two months the lectionary happened to be from Year C. and we were hearing readings from Luke’s Gospel. Time after time the causes of the poor and the lost, the Prodigal and the Samaritan, were being put forward by Jesus. I was accused of “cooking the books” and yet I was following the Gospel readings of the day.

Luke is above all the gospel written among the Gentiles. It seeks to apply the significance of Jesus words and actions as they find living expression in the expanding world of a Gospel that Jesus sent out through us to the ends of the world. It is about hospitality and welcoming, leaving your own comfort zones and seeking the lost stranger. The parish, I am glad to say, heard Jesus through Luke, and our active ministry with the homeless stretched on for more than thirty years. Nevertheless, there came another generation that raised the same question, and, from what I hear, it seems Luke was not part of the response. Sadly, a different conclusion was reached, and a most significant ministry has been lost.   

Good things can be undone quickly by well-intentioned people. We must not stop listening to the Gospel. This Lent, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is inviting us all to read along with him the Gospel of Luke. Let us join him and find the strength to answer the words “Well, here we go again.”

In the peace and love of Christ,

The Rt. Rev. Alan Scarfe
Bishop of Iowa