Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori joined in Morning Prayer, attended classes, held a discussion session, and delivered a post-Evensong sermon during a visit to Nashotah House Theological Seminary on May 1. It was the first time that Jefferts Schori had visited the historic Anglo-Catholic institution.
Courtesy and even joy prevailed, and the presiding bishop said she had experienced the seminary’s Benedictine hospitality. The Rt. Rev. Edward L. Salmon, Jr., dean and president of Nashotah House, encouraged all students and faculty to attend unless their sponsoring bishop forbade it.
While it remains a recognized seminary of the Episcopal Church, Nashotah House has also opened its doors to other Anglican groups, a number of whom have broken away from the Episcopal Church amid theological disputes.
Three Nashotah House students — Ezgi Saribay and Tanya Scheff, and the Rev. Terry Star, a 40-year-old deacon of the Diocese of North Dakota who was studying for the priesthood — were primarily responsible for prompting Nashotah’s board of trustees to discuss a possible invitation to the presiding bishop.
The presiding bishop’s visit to Nashotah House was already scheduled and announced when Star died overnight on March 4, making a tribute more appropriate than a more general homily.
“You could not say no to Terry,” Saribay said, adding that Star convinced her to write to the Rt. Rev. Daniel Martins, Bishop of Springfield and president of Nashotah’s board. Saribay grew up in a nominally Islamic household in the Middle East until the age of 17, when she concluded that she was a Christian. She was baptized soon after and moved to the United States.
In addition to his work with youth on Native American reservations, Star also served on the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council, which functions as the church’s executive officers when General Convention is not in session. He already had developed a warm personal relationship with Jefferts Schori when he confided in her some years ago that he had his heart set on attending Nashotah House Seminary. Knowing Star, Bishop Jefferts Schori said, she expressed mild surprise at his choice. It was then that Star began urging her to welcome an invitation if one came.
With the possible exception of light rain, events throughout the day at Nashotah House went off without a glitch, but the decision to issue the invitation did not come without controversy. The 31-member Nashotah House board of trustees includes bishops from the Episcopal Church as well as bishops from a number of traditionalist Anglican groups that have split from the Episcopal Church. The Rt. Rev. Jack L. Iker, Bishop of Fort Worth, resigned from the board in protest, and the Rt. Rev. William C. Wantland, retired Bishop of Eau Claire, said he would not support the seminary under its current leadership.
In a statement released in February after the resignations became public, Bishop Salmon wrote: “We take no joy that folks who love the House are disturbed by the invitation and it was not issued in any other spirit than that of engaging in mission. The ‘Pax Nashotah’ is not going to go away. The commitment to the Anglo-Catholic vision of the ‘faith once delivered to the saints’ is not going to go away. The mission of the House, the direction of the House, the theology of the House is not changing. A visit, even one involving a sermon, will not change what has been bought at a price.”
Commenting on the unusual geology of the region of Wisconsin in which the seminary is located, the presiding bishop said that the bowl-shaped lakes, created by retreating boulders, reminded her of primitive baptismal fonts. “It’s a wonderful Easter image of stone moved and a baptismal pool remaining, in the midst of God’s wild creation,” she said. “Terry’s study here only added to his conviction about the path he was on, and he continued to push the boundaries outward, so that more might hear deeper truth. He spoke the Word with unforked tongue, challenging the comfortable and comforting the challenged.”
Image by Steve Waring/TLC