(Living Church) North Dakota Episcopal Bishop Proposes Becoming Cathedral Dean

The Bishop of North Dakota has proposed putting the cathedra back in cathedral, asking his diocese to consider approving him as the next dean of Gethsemane Cathedral, Fargo.

In the Rt. Rev. Michael G. Smith’s proposal, which appeared on his weblog Jan. 14 and on the diocese’s weblog Jan. 17, the bishop would devote two-thirds of his time to being dean and rector of the cathedral and one-third to being bishop. He envisions a staff of a full-time administrator, a full-time secretary, a quarter-time minister for pastoral care at the cathedral, and a diocesan ministry team (three canon missioners and the bishop’s executive assistant).

“My hope is for the Diocese of North Dakota to become one church with 21 mission outposts and emerging fresh expressions throughout our area,” Smith told The Living Church. “The cathedral could become the center and headquarters for this mission enterprise. My sense is that the future will depend less on our financial resources and more on the creativity and commitment of our members as we become communities of disciples serving the Lord Jesus Christ in our several communities.

Read it all.


Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, Episcopal Church (TEC), Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, TEC Bishops, TEC Parishes

24 comments on “(Living Church) North Dakota Episcopal Bishop Proposes Becoming Cathedral Dean

  1. dwstroudmd+ says:

    Ah, Consul [i]and[/i] Tribune.

  2. Archer_of_the_Forest says:

    Well, that’s certainly thinking outside the box. I’m not sure how that would work practically.

  3. Henry Greville says:

    To anyone familiar with Episcopalians in North Dakota:
    What goes on that diocesan canon missioners are needed for that a bishop and a bishop’s executive assistant are not able to handle between themselves?

  4. Archer_of_the_Forest says:

    No. 3,

    In a word: travel time. I’m from South Dakota, and I think most people don’t have a concept of how spacious places like the Dakotas are and how much snow we get.

    For instance, at least on the South Dakota side, we have parishes on Standing Rock mission on the South Dakota side, which is a Reservation that covers both North and South Dakota. We have one priest/canon missioner for several parishes in that area. The parishes cover a geographical area larger that the entire state of Connecticut. And on most reservations, there are no funeral homes due to the poverty, so clergy have to cover all funerals/deaths. Given gang violence and teen suicide, Canon missioners have a light week if they only have 2 funerals. (And bear in mind that traditional Lakota funerals are 3 days affairs.)

    That’s just one reason we have canon missioners. I can give you several others.

  5. Archer_of_the_Forest says:

    I guess I should also make a shameless plug here. Another reason is massive clergy shortage. People think we’re out in in covered wagons and fighting Indians or some such thing, particularly with the urban-centric leanings of the Episcopal Church these days. If you are looking for clergy jobs, contact me. I can name you any number of several just in South Dakota. I’m sure North Dakota is largely in the same boat.

  6. Henry Greville says:

    Thank you for explaining, Archer. Your regional clergy shortage seems extremely sad to me, as well as embarassing for the Episcopal Church as a whole. I say this because in my northern New England diocese we have many more clergy (almost all female)than most parishes wish to pay for, yet still they seem unwilling to re-locate in order to serve the pastoral needs of people elsewhere. I hear this is also true in the big city dioceses on the West and East Coasts.

  7. John F. Floberg says:

    #3: Thanks for the Question: I am one of the Canon Missioners for North Dakota. For me that means that I am serving 6 of the 21 congregations as Priest In Charge. They are located as far north as the Canadian border and as far south as the South Dakota border. I reside in Bismarck. Five of them are Native American Congregations on Reservations and one is an city congregation in Minot. I supervise and support the ministries of about eleven locally trained Deacons and Priests who serve in those congregations. We are making use of a partnership with the ELCA way up north and have joined their cluster/ecumenical ministry.
    If we did not make use of Canons that allow for local training for non-stipendiary clergy many congregations in North Dakota would have closed. In some of our settings it isn’t that we are keeping our doors open when there are other congregations around that our members could have joined. This truly is a way to be missional within our tradition and maintain a congregation with consistent sacramental worship. It requires thousands of dollars to be used for travel. More than $40,000 a year is in the Bishop’s and Canon Missioner’s Travel Allowance. With $4.00 per gallon gas on its way that will need to increase or fewer miles will have to be driven. We try very hard to make our Canon Missioner assignments work to their best serving across cultures and across the miles.
    Only three of our congregations can afford full-time clergy with their own resources. Native Ministry is largely dependent upon a base budget grant from the Episcopal Church. If we lost that revenue the Bishop would need to move to Standing Rock to keep Native work active in the diocese and then to be 1/3 time Bishop for North Dakota.
    One of our greatest stretches in North Dakota is that a large population of Sudanese Episcopalians arrived here some years ago and have a congregation in Fargo-Moorhead. Even with all of our other economic challenges we try to raise funding for them to have at least a part-time priest in charge as well. They have three deacons, one priest and a congregation that is over 200.
    Again, thanks for asking.

  8. Adam 12 says:

    I know that isolation is a huge problem in the Dakotas and that there are a lot of youth suicides there on the reservations. Also the bishop has a reputation for orthodoxy. Perhaps it may make sense to have some kind of center for the diocese in such a vast setting.

  9. John F. Floberg says:

    What kind of center are you thinking about?

  10. Ian Montgomery says:

    Just a suggestion as this is what I have done by going on the mission field overseas. I retired after my 30+years and am finding that retirement on the mission field overseas is more fun and fulfilling than ever ministry was as a rector. With significant numbers of clergy reaching this stage of life – how about some recruiting by offering some benefits/housing but no stipend. Retirement with a purpose!

  11. Archer_of_the_Forest says:

    No. 8,

    I think isolation is very much an issue as well. That’s an excellent point. I am probably a good 45-50 minute drive from the nearest Episcopal Church other than the one I serve. Luckily, I’m right on an interstate, so its not a major deal for me if I need to touch base with other clergy or the Bishop for whatever reason. But there are parished that are a good 2+ hours from anywhere. Clergy that serve those parishes are on the front lines. There aren’t clinical counselors or psychiatrists to refer parishioners to. There isn’t any sort of collegial ministerial associations in most towns. It can be depressing for priests because there is no ready support structure for them.

    Case in point, I serve in a town of roughly 22,000 people. We have one of the major universities in the State, so that might go up to as high as 25,000+ people in town during the semester, give or take. We are the 4th biggest city population-wise in the entire state of South Dakota, bigger even than the state capital.

  12. off2 says:


  13. Archer_of_the_Forest says:

    No. 6,

    That is my assessment as well of the Episcopal Church clergy situation. People from other denominations ask me occasionally if we as a denomination have a clergy shortage, and I always respond with, “Well, yes and no.” In rural and small town areas, particularly in places like here in the Northern plains, there is a massive shortage, which is only going to get worse when the baby boomer priests start retiring. I know some areas in the rual South have been hit pretty hard too.

    Whereas in the urban areas, there’s a glut. While I can’t speak for the East Coast/West Coast areas, that was certainly true in Chicago where I went to seminary. I knew several folks in my graduating class who were from places like Chicago or the Midwest areas like Detroit and Cleveland that had basically been released from their bishops and were on their own to scramble to find job placements after seminary.

    But, even with all that, during seminary, I would invariably get asked the question of “Where do you see your ministry in 10 years?” I would always say rural/small town ministry, to which I would always hear crickets chirping and the occasionally patronizing, “Oh…that’s…nice.” They rolled their eyes because it wasn’t a cushy white, suburban job, but I tell you, sane priests in small town ministry have job security like you wouldn’t believe.

  14. Archer_of_the_Forest says:

    *rural* South. Pardon my type.

  15. Mithrax+ says:

    Just to throw my two cents in about rural and distant ministry: Travel costs are -enormous-. Now while I’m in Canada, I’m working in a semi-remote area and to get down to my Bishop’s office for a meeting, it’s a 40 minute ferry ride, and around 5-6 hour drive. So that means staying overnight somewhere. One of my parishes is a 2-2.5 hour boat ride if I hitch a ride with the RCMP, a 6 hour fishing boat ride, or 30 minute plane ride. The first two are free, but only occasional. Flights are $300 round trip. WHile the flights are covered, it’s still a paperwork nightmare, and dependant on the weather. I’m trying to finance my own boat, but the costs are fightningly huge.

    But on the whole, I’d say this was the best calling God ever called me to. The people, both First Nations and non are great. The First Nations communities have opened their arms and their homes to myself and my family, including apprenticing my son by one of the Master Carvers out here.

    I’d love to stay out here for the rest of my ministry if I can. Lots of work to do, but it beats living in a city any day of the year. People look at me like I’m nuts, but I’d rather be out here doing God’s work than jockeying for a position amongst the other younger clergy.

  16. John F. Floberg says:

    Just so you all know there is a difference between North and South Dakota besides the first word in the title: South Dakota was populated with many more English folk than North. In the North it is Norwegian/Scandinavian and German/Russian along with the Native American population. That meant that Anglican churches were the last ones into town until the Pentecostal revivals and such took place. In the past 40 years we have closed many of our buildings because they lacked a congregation to keep them open. So in some respects South Dakota has a stronger base from which it works. We each have 1/3 to 1/2 of our membership/congregations being Native American. Stronger, of course, is a relative term. It is in comparison to North Dakota. It may be that North and South Dakota could merge and be served by a Diocesan (traditional approach) and a Suffragan who is out in the field as a Missioner in consistent ministry with some community/reservation and able to make visitations and the like as well. It wouldn’t be much fun to be the Bishop of the Dakotas and have to travel from Sioux Falls to Williston!

  17. Timothy Fountain says:

    The clergy here (I say this as a newcomer with a fairly “normal” ministry in the largest city in SD) are a very special bunch. Deaths and retirements are felt acutely here, because most of the clergy have established unique witness in settings unusual to our denomination, training and inculturation.

  18. Archer_of_the_Forest says:

    No. 16,

    Sioux Falls to Williston…that thought just made the baby Jesus cry. 😉

  19. Ian+ says:

    What an idea! A bishop willing to give more time to his people rather than spend most of it away from his pasture! And what great condescension that such a bishop should stoop to serve as dean as well (cf. the Exsultet in the Easter Vigil liturgy)– it’s positively Christlike!

  20. David Keller says:

    I bet some wag out there (certainly not me) might quip that being Dean was a good idea for our bishops because we would see so much less of them. Also, with all respect to our hardy Scandanivian brethern in NoDak–distance doesn’t really bother me. I grew up in Texas. However, living in a place where you can throw a glass of water in the air and it crystalizes before it hits the ground scares the heck out of me.

  21. John F. Floberg says:

    #20. That freezing ice trick only works 1/3 of the year.

  22. David Keller says:

    #21–Thanks. I feel better now. But I have a freind from NoDak who says they only have 2 seasons there: winter and the 4th of July.

  23. Bill Matz says:

    You evoked a lot of family memories. My grandfather (reportedly the first surgeon in ND) had his office/apartments on Main St. in Minot and was a member of that church. A close family friend, Mrs. W, was a fellow parishioner and was born the year before ND became a state; she lived to celebrate the state’s centennial. I only visited a half dozen times but have fond memories of the town.

  24. John F. Floberg says:

    I was good to read your post. I was Celebrant at All Saints on Sunday and chaired the Annual Meeting. They can’t afford a priest, but they do have a robust ministry of non-stipendiary clergy and lay people. Their bible studies are well attended, a very good choir, weekly soup kitchen, parish nurse, Sunday School, all of that and some more. They have also experienced some modest growth in worship attendance as well. If people wonder if this model of doing ministry is viable with training people for Holy Orders using local and diocesan resources I’d like to show them All Saints, Minot.