Twin Challenges for New Bishop of Minnesota

The Rt. Rev. Craig Loya has had an eventful transition from Dean of Trinity Cathedral in Omaha to Bishop of Minnesota. TLC’s Kirk Petersen spoke with him in mid-June. The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

KP: Just to set the stage, when you were elected bishop on January 25, nobody in the United States had died yet from the coronavirus. Then on June 6, in a cathedral that was almost empty, you knelt down as a priest and stood up as a bishop. And that was 12 days after George Floyd was killed.

So, two times, you’ve had to come to terms with the fact that your new job is going to be very different from what you imagined. What has that been like for you, emotionally and spiritually?

CL: Moving and starting a new vocation always involves disruption, and that’s been particularly true in these last six months. It has certainly been a challenging time to make a transition.

At the same time, we learn over and over in the Scriptures that the people of God often meet God’s love and power most fully during periods of disruption, during periods in the wilderness, during periods of exile. As challenging as the transition has been, I have also been reassured of God’s love and God’s presence, and God’s faithfulness to the Church. Even with all the grief and loss we’re experiencing, we’re being reminded that God is faithful to God’s people, from one generation to the next.

None of us would choose the suffering that is being caused by COVID-19. Certainly, none of would choose the suffering that has been caused for many centuries by the Church’s complicity in systemic racism. But given that this is where we are, I do think there’s an invitation from the Holy Spirit in this moment for a deeper transformation, so that we become a more just, more faithful, and more vibrant witness to Jesus Christ on the other side of all of this.

Bishop Craig Loya | Lauren Smythe photo

Could you say more about the Church’s complicity in systemic racism? What form has that taken?

I think early in the Church’s history in this country, we oftentimes were complicit in the decimation of indigenous cultures, with sort of a thin veneer of Gospel witness and evangelism layered over the top of that. Our own structures, our own leadership, our own makeup at different times has privileged people who are white over black, brown, and indigenous people.

Last week, the Executive Council voted to give $150,000 each to your diocese and the Diocese of Kentucky, where Breonna Taylor was killed. Do you have a sense yet how you want to spend that money?

Not specifically, but we want to do a couple of things. The first is to continue to work with our community partners to provide relief and assistance where it’s immediately needed.

Second, this has been a reminder to the Episcopal Church and to disciples of Jesus everywhere, that this is long work. We are called to repenting, accounting, and reconciling with our own history of being complicit in systemic racism. We hope to set up that work of racial justice and reconciliation for the long term.

One of the videos on your diocesan website said your predecessor, Bishop [Brian] Prior, made strong efforts to be a bridge between the police and the Black community. Clearly you would want to continue that. Do you have any thoughts on what form that might take?

One of the things that excites me is that a few years ago, the diocesan offices were moved to North Minneapolis, which is a predominantly African-American neighborhood. I hope we can continue to join the Holy Spirit in bringing new life, and reconciliation, and justice in North Minneapolis. We have community groups that use our spaces. During the protests after the killing of George Floyd, our offices were used as a community center to provide food and other critical supplies to people in the neighborhood. I hope we can continue to follow the lead of our community partners in North Minneapolis, engaging in that work of reconciliation.

Are you working out of the diocesan offices now?

No, our offices are still closed because of COVID. Our staff members are working from home. I’m not able, other than by phone and virtually, to begin to connect with our community partners. Now that I’m the bishop, those are relationships I’m going to have to continue to build and cultivate and establish on my own. This is a challenging time to try to do that.

It also must be a problem connecting with the Episcopalians in the diocese.

I think that’s true, although I’ve been able to establish much deeper connections in this virtual way than I would have imagined. That’s one of the invitations from the Holy Spirit in this moment, that all of us in the Church are finding new ways of connecting, and we’re finding both limitations and new opportunities.

For example, there was a day a couple of weeks ago where I was with a youth group in Rochester in the evening, and I was with another group in Duluth in the morning. It would be almost impossible to be with both of those groups in the same day. [Duluth is 150 miles north of Minneapolis, while Rochester is 100 miles south.] So, I’ve been able to connect with more people than I would have otherwise in my first couple of months.

The diocesan offices in North Minneapolis, above Sammy’s Avenue Eatery

You’re in the same building with Sammy’s Avenue Eatery, right?

Correct. That’s an important gathering place for the community. Sammy is an important leader in North Minneapolis, and is connected to a lot of other leaders. He has been instrumental in helping us build friendships and partnerships in the neighborhood. He’s an incredible person, an extraordinary leader, and we’re really grateful for his friendship and partnership. The Episcopal Church in Minnesota is committed to that neighborhood for the long term. Sammy has helped communicate that to the neighborhood.

And you’ve got an easy way to get lunch every day.

[laughs] I can’t wait until circumstances allow me to eat there, because I’ve heard such great things about his restaurant. I’ve been in the space and met some of the people, but I haven’t sampled the food yet.

In one of the videos you said Revelation 22 is one of your favorite passages in Scripture, about the restoration of Eden. You’re involved in a restoration project right now. Does that linkage evoke anything for you?

Absolutely it does. That vision of the restoration of Eden in Revelation 22 is an image we are called to bear witness to. It’s God’s initiative to restore the world to what God envisions. In every generation, in every context, in every season, God is always trying to restore God’s vision of a beloved community of justice, and peace, and love, and life. It’s our job as disciples to discern where God is doing that and to join up with that.

We’ve talked about the need to build bridges between police and the Black community. The day after George Floyd was killed, you posted something on your personal Facebook page about being “heartbroken and angry.” That really came through when you wrote: “America in 2020 is the place where Black men are regularly murdered by police while they are handcuffed and begging for their lives.”

Since building bridges between the Black community and the police is going to involve working with both sides, and recognizing that people on both sides are children of God, I’m wondering if that’s still the way you would frame that thought, now that the initial passion has passed.

I would say the facts would suggest that we do regularly have Black men being killed by police when they are handcuffed and begging for their lives. At the same time, racism in the form of police brutality is a systemic problem more than a people problem. The vast majority of police that I know are really good people, trying to do good and critical work for our communities. The systemic challenge comes from the fact that this continues to happen over and over, that there doesn’t tend to be a lot of accountability for when these things happen. The problem is in the system, and it’s up to all of us to work to transform the system.

What makes you hopeful?

The thing that makes me most hopeful is the fact that God is faithful. The Scriptures, Church history, my own personal experience, communicates over and over that despite our limitations, despite our shortcomings, despite our failures, despite the constant uncertainty in the world, in every generation, God is faithful to God’s promise. I’m so grateful to be called into this ministry in this moment when both the call of the Gospel is so clear, and the need of our witness to the Gospel is so urgent. It all comes back to the world’s deep hunger for the good news of Jesus, and for our ability to follow the Holy Spirit’s call in bearing witness to that.


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