Canon Maria Tjeltveit
Church of the Mediator
“We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news.”
This week I have been blogging from the National Workshop on Christian Unity. One of my friends there, Warren Murphy, another Ecumenical and Interreligious Officer, has written On Sacred Ground, A Religious and Spiritual History of Wyoming. In it, he tells one of my favorite stories about Bishop Talbot, and shows that Talbot (who was bishop of Wyoming before Bethlehem) was a proponent of adaptive leadership. Here is a section on Talbot:
Another traveling cleric was the youthful and energetic Episcopal bishop Ethelbert Talbot. In 1886 he was appointed by the Episcopal House of Bishops to leave Missouri and serve as Bishop of Wyoming and Idaho. The bishop traveled his missionary diocese by horse and stagecoach. He relished meeting all kinds of people in the communities he visited. Unlike many of the so-called “sky pilots,” Talbot was not put off by the bawdy social scene he encountered. His goal was to recruit clergy who could come and adjust to the West’s particular environment. He was aware that Wyoming’s workers, especially those in the mines, had little time for themselves and could easily be attracted on Sundays to things other than church. Talbot saw an opportunity for the frontier minister to provide them with not just a church service, but also a place to go for constructive reading, card games and even medical attention.
The bishop talked about the kind of clergy that were necessary. He wrote, “If the minister of Christ is to be of any real help to men in such environment, he must first of all be a manly man with a genius for service born of a loving sympathy…the men of the mining camps and ranch towns in Wyoming and Idaho used to implore me to send them a ‘good mixer’”. He went on to say, “To do men good they must be met on their own ground. It is not a loss of dignity, but the truest dignity, to identify one’s self with the sorrows, anxieties, and even with the joys of those whom it is an honor to serve just because they are men; to be as the great apostle said he tried to be—‘all things to all men’—that he might win some.”
This pastoral approach was quite different than the practice followed by many of the clergy who imposed moral standards on church goers. The bishop had no problem holding services in saloons, and recruiting some of the local bar patrons to attend. Once he was greeted by a cowboy in the Sundance saloon who blurted out, “Where the hell have I met you?” Bishop Talbot calmly replied, “Well, I don’t know. What part of hell did you come from?”
How do you meet people on their own ground in your context of ministry?
(On Sacred Ground, A Religious and Spiritual History of Wyoming, 2011Wordsworth, Cody, WY, by Warren Murphy, pp.106-107. First quotes from The Rt. Rev. Ethelbert Talbot, My People of the Plains, pp.95-96. Story of cowboy Quoted form the Sundance Gazette, February 16, 1894, in the Bishop Talbot file at the American Heritage Center; Laramie, WY.)