Yes, even with all that we see going on there, I, along with my good friend and mentor, the Very Rev. Dominic Barrington, Dean of York, and a principal partner in Lightline Pilgrimages, made it to Jerusalem this past week. I left on January 7th from Miami. We began planning our trip about 6 weeks ago. In that time we had to reschedule my flight four times due to airline cancellations. My route was from Miami to Chicago, Chicago to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Munich, Munich to Tel Aviv. A 30 hour run around Europe! But, to my amazement and delight, and even with one 50 minute connection, it worked. I arrived in Tel Aviv only about 30 minutes late. As with many of the surprises we would have, the airport was the first, very few planes, all of them El Al, and many empty gates. We were on Lufthansa. When we arrived at the gate the captain came on and welcomed us to Tel Aviv and thanked us for "taking the “inaugural flight” as we resume today flying daily to Tel Aviv." I had no idea we were on the very first flight since the cancellations early on. For several months before January 8th, only El Al was continuing to fly into Tel Aviv.
Our next surprise was the ghost town that was the airport pilgrimage bus parking lot, usually a point of blessed chaos, and throngs of people, it was lonely, and desolate, a surreal vision at dusk.
We then took the ride to Jerusalem and checked into the American Colony in East Jerusalem. They reported only 12 rooms taken on this night, out of nearly 200. They did report that just a few weeks ago they were full, due to journalists, but that has now once again shifted south. On this night we learned that Secretary of State Anthony Blinken was landing in town. He would be moving about closely for all the days we were there.
That evening, after a bit of cleaning up from the long journey, Dominic and I were blessed to have dinner with Archbishop Hosam Naoum, Archbishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East. It was so good to see my beloved colleague and to hear first hand the experience, for him and for the diocese, of this war.
After supper, I was really ready to lay down and sleep. As so many of you well know the first night after travels here, I slept like a rock for about 5 hours, and then my eyes popped open, in the middle of the night, and there wasn’t much use in trying to sleep much more. Still, even with that, most of you know how refreshing it is to get that 5 hours! When I did pop up, one of the blessings was the morning prayer call from the minaret right outside my window. I always love that sound when I am here. I videoed it so you can hear it too.
The next morning, after a couple strong espressos, Dominic and I met with Ranya, one of the excellent guides we work with, and her husband Rami just to catch up and to assure them of our prayers for them both and our yearning to return as soon as possible with pilgrims. She is pregnant now with their second child. Keep them in your prayers.
I then moved on to St. George’s Cathedral as I was invited to join Archbishop Hosam, Chaplain Don Binder, and Interim Dean of St. George’s Cathedral, Wadie Farr on the annual ecumenical practice among the heads of churches to share Christmas greetings. This started at the Greek Patriarch, Blessed Theopholis, His Beatitude, who welcomed us all as we shared greetings. In Archbishop Hosam’s remarks to Theopholis and the gathered crowd he introduced me as Chair of the American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, as a friend, and as the “first pilgrim to return after the war.” This humble declaration was very warmly received by those gathered as they applauded to show their gratitude. His Beatitude, then asked me to speak, something I entirely did not expect! I hope my jet lagged, unplanned response, was a good one. I shared what a blessing it was to be in their presence and that I stood in for thousands who would be standing there if they could, and assured them of our continued and ongoing prayers for peace in the Land of the Holy One. It was an awesome, humbling, and blessed experience.
We moved from the Greek Patriarch, through the streets of the Old City, largely closed, but still, in certain corners, places open and striving to come back to some new normal. We moved next to the Coptic Church, where we were welcomed again, and then finally to the Syriacs for a similar greeting, and good discussion. Of course the war is front and center, but as so many speakers remarked, regardless of war, Christmas cannot be stopped, and ultimately, we, Christians, are a people of hope. I witnessed some audacious hope on this day and on this whole journey.
One of the blessings of being in this audience was finally getting to personally meet the Rev. Sally Azar, Evangelical Lutheran Church, who was ordained in Jerusalem on January 22, 2023, an event I did not get to attend but for which I happened to be in Jerusalem for with a group of pilgrims. Though we did not attend we were definitely celebrating this before and after. She is the first Palestinian woman ordained in the Holy Land.
On our walk through the old city, we visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where they are taking this opportunity to do some major renovations. Much of it is scaffolded, and taped off, but our four person entourage was able to walk right into the tomb, and to pray together there. We were able to reverence and pray at the Stone of Anointing too. In the course of the two days I would have the blessing of entering in twice more for prayer there. Again, a site to behold as usually there are thousands waiting for this chance.
I made my way back to the American Colony to have lunch with Dominic and the Rev. Richard Sewell, Dean of St. George’s College. Richard has become a great colleague and friend. It was very good to catch up with him. Dominic and I then took our own walk through the Old City, going once again to the Holy Sepulcher.
I then peeled off and walked back to meet Giovanni Anbar. Giovanni is the Director of the Episcopal Technological and Vocational Training Center in Ramallah. If you have not visited there, and you ever get a chance, you must. He is an amazing and inspiring leader and this school will warm your heart. You can find more here. My main point of being there was to hear of the struggle during this time and to, face to face, share our solidarity and hope and support for their ongoing work even in the face of it.
Giovanni shared that the journey for him each day, from his home in Jerusalem, on to Ramallah, as the crow flies, perhaps a little more than 13 miles, takes him roughly 4 hours each way, as their is only one checkpoint open, and of course, security is very high. While 8 hours a day just to commute does sound daunting, Giovanni was gentle and clear in saying if this is all is afflicted with in this war, especially when so many others are dying, injured, held hostage, etc, he can handle the wait. He also shared that incredible hope that is so much a part of his leadership and as difficult as it is, still prevalent among the Living Stones.
That evening we shared dinner with George, Tamer, and Habib Khoury, long time friends and partners in our Lightline Pilgrimage business. It was so good to see these friends, to listen to them and their struggles and trails and hopes during this time too.
Another attempt to sleep! It went about as well as those of you who have done this know! The next morning I got up so I could attend the 8 a.m. Holy Eucharist at St. George’s Cathedral, were the Archbishop presided. After that, Dominic and I were able to meet with Ghassan, our other spectacular guide and friend to again assure him that he, his family, his work have not been forgotten.
After a quick coffee at American Colony, I was picked up by Muhammad, who took me to Princess Basma Hospital in East Jerusalem, so I could meet with our Director there, Violette Mubarak and some of her amazing staff. If I had not seen hope and joy much before this visit, I got it in droves here! I played and sang with a few of the over 400 children they teach each day, and I got to get a briefing on the war, on renovations and changes to the hospital, and to meet some of the patients caught in the middle in this war. I think it has been about two years since I have been present at Princess Basma, and I have to say I was totally stunned by all the good work, the cleanliness, the newness that has occurred since I last saw it. I saw a whole new computer lab, new classrooms, a beautiful new outdoor, covered playground. Violette and the staff here are rock stars! It was such an inspiration for this to be one of my last stops.
After being taken back to the American Colony, I called my favorite and only tattoo artist I use in Jerusalem, Razzouk. Many years ago I decided to always leave with one souvenir at the end of any travel to the Holy City, a tattoo. Wasim Razzouk and his family have been doing this since 1300. Every year I get the actual numbers of the year added to my arm. So, with just a few hours left before I had to go to the airport, I met Wasim’s son, Nizar, who has done several of my tattoos, at the shop so that I could get my “24” put on my arm. I have added a picture below.
After this very short visit I returned to Tel Aviv airport, we boarded our Lufthansa flight and flew back to Frankfurt, this time to spend one night at the airport, and then to get up early the next day and board a direct flight back to Miami. It was such a blessing to only have two legs compared to the four on the way out, but I would not change a thing. I will never regret the work it took to get there, and certainly never the chance to actually be here, to walk, and talk, and share with these Living Stones who need us, and the world, so much right now. The entire country is tense, the lack of trust hangs thickly in the air, the PTSD, is in everyone.
Our goal was to be in solidarity, to assure the people of this land that they have not been forgotten, and that we have every intention of coming back, and bringing pilgrims as soon as possible. We came also to say to them, face to face, we will continue our prayers, but even more our work, where we are, in every way we can, to help and aid peace for all in this land.
Until that time I hold up to you the work of the American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem. I humbly ask you to consider giving to that work. You can do that here. For the many reading this who have already, thank you, from me, but even more from those who we were with there, who are very clear, that these gifts, these prayers, our presence, our desire to be present, are all profound and deep gifts to and for them during this challenging time.
Blessings to all,
I am happy to say I plan to lead my 13th Pilgrimage to the Holy Land in January 2024. Specifically, we will be leaving on January 6th and we will have a Jordan extension offered as well. I will be joined by the Rt. Rev. Anne Hodges-Copple, good friend, bishop colleague, Holy Land pro!. She also shares the work of the American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem with me as we both serve on that Board. The "Save the Date" below asks you to simply by sending your me your interest in the trip along with you mailing address, email, phone number. By doing this, should you choose to sign up and register once the brochure is out, hopefully around July 1st, you will receive a $100 discount off the price of the trip. I hope you will join us!
Since I last posted a lot has happened. I am starting to make some visitations in my new home in Southeast Florida, mostly in my role as Assisting Bishop for Congregational Vitality and Stewardship. I was blessed to attend Church of the Holy Sacrament, Pembroke Pines early in May. This is a vibrant and happy congregation under the great interim leadership of the Rev. Earl Henry. Here is the fabulous acolyte crew!
Over 200 in attendance! This is a happening place! I could not resist getting a picture of the congregation!
Next, I had the blessing of traveling to the Florida Keys, a place I love very much and have visited for years. In all those 25 plus years I have always driven right past St. James' the Fisherman Church in Islamorada. I would always pay it homage. I was blessed to be asked to be there on Pentecost. As I told the congregation that day, "I have driven by this church at least once a year for over 25 years, but it is just today when I finally SEE the Church!, because on this day I get to see and meet all of you!"
It is a great congregation, doing much in the community, including their school next door.
Islamorado is really the Middle Keys. My wife and I drove on to Key West where we planned to stay for a few days to celebrate our 39th year of marriage. On that Tuesday I trekked back up A1A to Marathon to meet the good people of St. Columba, Marathon. I have heard a lot about this amazing group of the faithful, this little band doing such great things for their community. I was able to tour the TWO stores they run, one for clothing, and one for furniture. I was able to see their amazing location, the Abbey, the Labyrinth, the new Kitchen, so much! Here is a picture of the new Kitchen, and of Rector Debra, Jody, and Kathy.
After a super lunch time with those three I headed back to Key West. The next morning I was able to have coffee with the Very Rev. Donna Mote, Rector of St. Paul's and Dean of the Keys Deanery. When I returned to our hotel, I saw a small crowd gathering around at the marina. When I popped over to see what it was, this incredible creature was putting on a show!
And then we were greeted on one of our stops by this gentle key deer. Key Deer are endangered and live in the sanctuary in the middle keys.
Then, just today I got the blessing of visiting St. Patrick's Church, West Palm Beach, to preach and spend time with their priest the Rev. Paul Rasmus and all the good people there.
Finally, I am also putting time into saving sea turtles and helping them when eggs are laid and especially when they hatch. I am just getting started with this but I have been asked to be on the Board and to especially help with fundraising. So, if you know me, you know I am not shy about asking for money, especially for a great cause, and this is one. Learn more at https://www.seaturtleop.com/ www.seaturtleop.com/
Blessings to all,
Well, what a ride these last few months have been. I was so blessed, honored, and humbled to serve as Bishop of Olympia for over 15 years. I ended that officially on January 31st, 2023. Very soon after I moved to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida to take up a new residence and some new vocations as well. Just this past Tuesday, Holy Tuesday, at the Chrism Mass held at Trinity Cathedral, Miami, I was graciously and beautifully welcomed into this new diocese and installed as Assisting Bishop to Bishop Peter Eaton and and the good people of Southeast Florida. This is an area I have long loved, having vacationed here many times over the years. I am so excited to be living here now. I am also serving as the Lightline Pilgrimages North American representative, and my new home is serving as our new office in the US as well. I hope to become active again on this blog, for those few who might actually frequent it. I will be making visitations once again and I will be posting those as they become clear on the Visitation page of this site. Blessings to all of you, and if you are in Olympia, thank you so much for the best 15 years I could have ever hoped for. We miss you all. And if you are in Southeast Florida, we are so excited to be amongst you and working with you to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ in this part of the vineyard.
To the Good People of the Diocese of Olympia,
I bring you greetings from day 9 of Lambeth Conference 2022 being held in Canterbury, England. For those of you who are interested in this, usually decade only, event, the media has certainly covered much of what has happened to this point. It has been a fast and furious conference, made shorter for both economic and health reasons. While packed, it has also been spirit filled. Many of you followed the somewhat rocky start, in which I added some of my thoughts. Indeed, our Episcopal Church House of Bishops was not the only province within the communion quite concerned about the “bait and switch” nature of the various Calls being presented and that came to the participants just a few days before our arrival here. If you followed that, you know that in that communication we were told that we would be voting, something that in all the build up to the conference had never been mentioned. I am happy to say early on in this conference this was abandoned. I give the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates, and leaders great commendation for listening and adjusting to this desire. In fact, we only actually voted and used the little digital machines once. We have never see them again.
Of all the “Calls”, the two most controversial, were expected to be, and indeed were, Human Dignity, which ironically was the one including a reaffirmation of Resolution 1.10 of Lambeth 1998 that affirmed that marriage was only recognized by Anglicans as between a man and a woman. This too, was one of the week early “surprises” sent to us. The other controversial Call was the one on Anglican Identity, which held several ideas that, quite frankly, are anathema to Anglicanism, and a complete polity change to our common life. Much in this Call would have made this church more of a Roman Catholic type polity and not a federation of independent provinces bound together by the Archbishop of Canterbury and prayer and relationship. Quite frankly this was one of the major reasons I was drawn initially to Anglicanism and ultimately gave myself to the life of it through ordination. Though not nearly as present in the media ahead of this conference it was one of my major concerns, and I was so thankful, as it turned out, of so many others here as well.
I want to say here that ultimately, once the voting machines were abandoned, and even more, once we began meeting in our small groups, for Bible study, and for relationship, both of these Calls and all the others, came to the beautiful “middle way” that is also such an appealing part of Anglicanism for me, and for so many that call it home. More on that later as to me, this is the beauty and the brilliance of this gathering and of our common life in this greater Communion.
Some of the other Calls, in my mind, are far more important for the Church, the Earth, and the inhabitants of it, and is truly where our true attention should be directed. And, through the work of the Holy Spirit, and also to the faith and leadership of our Archbishop of Canterbury, I believe this conference has now turned its attention to these more pressing matters. Creation Care and Climate Justice is one of those. This, is where I have put much of my energy while here, and this is what was celebrated, discussed and highlighted in our day at Lambeth Palace just finished yesterday.
Now, back to the beginning “unpleasantness”. In one of two of our special called meetings here of the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops we discussed at great length what to do with the various hiccups sent to us at the last hour, voting, resolution 1.10, the exclusion of our LGBTQ+ people, etc. One Holy Spirit moment in this was the urging of those of us who attended 2008 Lambeth, and the few who actually were at 1998, to take a deep breath, to, as Brene Brown so well teaches, “take heed of the story you are making up about others” you have not discussed or met with, or tried to be in relationship with yet. Most often the story you are making up is not the story, and most usually the story they are making up about you isn’t either. Constantly, in the good, intentional, committed work that does happen at Lambeth, this is revealed. As one of my colleagues said, “we haven’t even started Bible Study yet, let’s do that and see where the Holy Spirit leads us.” I believe that worked, very well, and again brought us together in a way that led to some most amazing decisions about all of the issues before us. As the Archbishop of Canterbury said in his remarks during the Human Dignity discussion, we are a federation of very diverse provinces, in some, in which not upholding marriage as only between a man and woman will do harm to the Church and its members, and also those who, without moving forward with a theology of the holiness of same sex marriage does detriment to the Church and the people. Anglicanism if nothing else, is a place, a container, historically and in purpose, has always been a house where such differences could be held together in the reality that, ultimately we follow one Lord, Jesus Christ. In that one thing, that one focus, that one hope is our unity. We will differ on many things, but in Christ, we are united. That is not only a great witness to the Church writ large, but to this earth as well. I don’t only believe that, here have seen it with my own eyes.
I think I speak for all here, that your prayers for our continued work in these last days are coveted, and needed. As you do that for us, we all do it for you, across this globe, Anglicans joined together in our diversity and our oneness. On the blog portion of this website, I offer several links that will more fully explore some of what I have stated above. Included in this is a letter from “Inclusive Bishops” addressed to the LGBTQ+ community. Please know that some of the early renditions of this did not include my name, ONLY because I had not been asked or presented with it. Two things, I was in London a day before Lambeth day and not here to sign, and it was not sent out on our HOB listserv so as not to appear coercive to those who would not want to sign it. But please know I signed it as soon as I was given a chance to. No need to write to me about your dismay about not being on it if you see versions in the press that do not contain my name. I hope those of you that know me would trust me more than that.
Be assured, if there is any anxiety, that nothing that has happened here which will affect our purpose and mission in the Diocese of Olympia or the Episcopal Church, save to strengthen it, through our oneness and unity in Christ Jesus with our siblings across this globe. I write to you rejoicing in that reality and blessed to be on that journey with all of you.
Bishop’s Statement on LGBTQ+: www.bit.ly/InclusiveLambeth2022
Main Lambeth Conference site; https://www.lambethconference.org/
Discussion on Human Dignity at Lambeth 2022: https://www.lambethconference.org/bishops-at-lambeth-conference-discuss-the-lambeth-call-on-human-dignity/
Lambeth Day at Lambeth Palace on Creation Care: https://www.episcopalnewsservice.org/2022/08/03/at-lambeth-palace-bishops-and-spouses-celebrate-launch-of-anglican-communion-forest-initiative/
You can Join the You Tube Lambeth Channel as well to get livestream as well as highlights from each day.
To the Good People of the Diocese of Olympia,
We wrapped up the long awaited, and delayed, 80th General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Baltimore, Maryland. We met at the Baltimore Convention Center, a building that we learned by living in it for five days, has no direct route from one place to the next! I mean this with all the best, it seemed like a perfect place to hold an Episcopal convention! Actually, I want to commend this city, and its people, who have welcomed us warmly. The very same to Bishop Eugene Sutton and the good people of the Diocese of Maryland, our hosts.
Olympia shined brightly here. We have some amazing leaders in our deputation and across our Church. One of the highlights was by far was the election of the Rev. Rachel Taber-Hamilton, Rector of Trinity, Everett, as Vice President of the House of Deputies. But we also saw many resolutions that originated here, and work that originated here, approved and made part of the larger Episcopal story. Both resolutions regarding Israel/Palestine made it to the discussion here and one was passed. Some of the excellent work on safeguarding and sexual harassment especially by our Chancellor Judy Andrews, who Chairs that work, was also moved forward. I will not steal the thunder of our House of Deputies, deputation, but I hope you will pay attention as they share the accomplishments of that House and this Church together.
As for me, I served this last six years on the Program, Budget, and Finance Committee of the Episcopal Church and the Assessment Review Committee. This convention made a move to dissolve the PB and F and redesign this process, something I totally support. The work of the Assessment Review Committee was apparent as almost all of our dioceses are up to date and paying their full assessment. This was far from true just a few conventions ago. What I might continue to serve on will be decided by new leadership in the days to come. I was re-elected to the Church Pension Fund Board for another, what will turn out to be, 5 year term.
I have to admit this convention went much better than I was afraid it might, just process wise. All those who put it together are to be commended. So, hats off to our deputation with special thanks to Maria Gonzales, Deputation Leader. They represented you very well, with dignity and honor.
On this day, February 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed this order and by so doing authorized the evacuation of all persons of Japanese descent, alien or non-alien, which were deemed a threat to national security from the West Coast to relocation centers further inland. In the next 6 months, over 100,000 men, women, and children of Japanese ancestry were moved to assembly centers. They were then evacuated to and confined in isolated, fenced, and guarded relocation centers, euphemously known as internment camps but much better described as concentration camps, or prisons. It is a sad mark on our country. I had the honor of visiting Minidoka, one of those prisons, where many from Seattle were sent. Visiting Minidoka is something anyone can do, and I would urge you to consider it, as well as the others scattered around the West and as far East as Arkansas. This is a day that reminds us what fear and racism can cause for us all and what our racism leads us to do and be. On this day I felt it would be a good day to remind you all of the resolution passed two years ago at our diocesan convention commending the Anti-Racism Covenant. You will find that below. I also commend the newsletter from the Friends of Minidoka. You can find that here mailchi.mp/124f3a08aa34/introducing-our-new-executive-director-13725686?e=8bb445ef5a
You can read more about this Covenant, see the list of signers, and sign yourself here
Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”
1 John 4:20
The sin of racism disrupts the harmony and oneness that God intends for humanity. Racism is dangerous, divisive, and damaging. Racism purports that some are deserving of dignity over others and disregards the image and likeness of God found in every human being. We are created in the image of God; therefore, to engage in racism of any form is to refuse to acknowledge the image of God in the other and the stranger. The fact that we were created in the image of God should remind us that each person is a living expression of God that must be respected, preserved, and never dishonored.
Throughout our history, courageous people of God have taken the risk of standing up and speaking out for the least and the lowest. God now challenges us to become courageous people who seek to create sacred communities of hope by dismantling the sin of racism. This work involves risking ourselves for the sake of God’s love, moving beyond ourselves in order to seek and serve Christ and one another.
We invite you to add your name to this covenant and join us as we work to root out racism. Individuals, parishes, groups, dioceses as well as community leaders and businesses are all welcome to be a part of this project.
We lament…As people of faith, we acknowledge our sins and our failure to respect the dignity of every human being. We have, individually and corporately, fallen short of the glory of God, and now call to mind and name the aspects of our lament.
The Rt. Rev. Gregory H. Rickel is the VIII Bishop of Olympia, the Episcopal Church in Western Washington State. He has been the bishop here since September, 2007.