The Rt. Rev. Michael Smith To Serve As Assisting Bishop in Dallas

04.06.17 | by Kimberly Durnan

The Rt. Rev. Michael Smith To Serve As Assisting Bishop in Dallas

    There’s a new bishop coming to the baptismal font this spring to lend a helping crozier to diocesan life, particularly in the areas of preaching, confirmations, baptisms and visitations. The Rt. Rev. Michael Smith, bishop of the North Dakota Diocese, will arrive in April for several weeks to serve as assisting bishop. This partnership gives the Dallas diocese much needed relief during a busy season of religious ceremonies, and forms community in the greater church. 

    Bishop George Sumner said he is excited about sharing the ministry of the diocese with Smith for a few weeks. Smith is a popular, pastoral leader who grew up in Purcell, Oklahoma and is a member of the Potawatomi Nation. He is married to the Rev. Lisa White Smith rector at Church of the Epiphany in Plymouth, Minnesota; and they have three children and seven grandchildren. Diocesan offices in North Dakota are in Fargo, on the eastern border. Smith said he looks forward to coming to Dallas and participating in the spiritual life of our parishes, and spending time in the pulpit. “Preaching is one of the things I enjoy most about ministry,” he said. He also expects to field questions about North Dakota’s harsh winter weather, which he admits can be as brutal as Texas summers. “Twenty degrees below freezing gets our attention, that’s cold,” he said. “But the summer is delightful with temperatures in the 70s and 80s. We have had to cancel very few meetings because of weather since I’ve been bishop. But we don’t take risks if there is a winter storm warning.”

    The ministry in North Dakota is important to the Episcopal Church, which funds one-third of its budget to keep Episcopal presence alive in a state dominated by Lutheran and Catholic churches. American Indian reservations, rural farmsteads and oil booms bring a diverse confluence of Americana to the state providing fertile ground for meaningful ministry. Take for example, the Bread of Life preaching station in Bismarck, where volunteers offer the Gospel, Holy Eucharist, a hot meal, prayer, groceries and fellowship to a segment of the population living in the margins. The outreach benefits those just released from a nearby state prison trying to assimilate to a new life, and to those who moved to the North Dakota in hopes of getting a job in the oil boom, said the Rev. Canon Dr. Zanne Ness, Canon Missioner for Congregations.

    “This is a place where people can come in out of the cold, get a mug of chili, a bag of groceries and play bingo,” Ness said. “The volunteers serve the participants like they are all in a little café and take care of them.” During a recent cool day about 15 people sat in comfy chairs, ate a hot breakfast and talked about possible job openings. “I have tried and tried hard to get a job,” said Garrett Sproul, who moved to North Dakota from Florida in hopes of working in the oil fields. “I got a job at the carwash for now, but the economy is good here and I’m hoping to work on the assembly line at the Bobcat plant.” The chance to eat warm food and get a bag of groceries means a lot to Narcise Black Cloud who was recently discharged from prison and is transitioning to a new life. “I’m learning how to set myself up, trying to get a new car. It’s tough. Rents are higher now because of the oil boom.”

    Ness’s husband, Terry Ness, volunteers at the center and says he gets more out of the program than the participants. “These guys are amazing, and to hear the things they do to help each other out is really special. This is a Christian home, and God is here.” Smith agreed, saying the outreach lets volunteers become the hands and feet of Christ. “It has been a good way to get Episcopalians out the door, outside the four walls of the church to meet with people who normally wouldn’t go to church,” he said. “They are ministering to people who don’t attend a church. They get a hot meal, see friends there and it’s less intimidating.” Further east, a similar ministry at Grace Episcopal Church in Jamestown offers a homemade dinner after the Sunday night contemporary service. Originally the potluck was aimed at college students but has spread to those struggling to make ends meet, said the Rev. Christian Senyoni. “It’s a come-as-you-are atmosphere so people are comfortable and feel like they belong,” Senyoni said. “There is also a lot of hugging here. They get hugs, food and stability.”

    In the south central part of the state, diocesan ministry focuses on worship and outreach at Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. For many years, the Episcopal Church has long maintained presence at the reservation with three congregations through Sunday services, a soup kitchen, Christian formation events and a large youth program. During a recent youth gathering at St. James’ Church in Cannon Ball, about 30 teens played games and learned about Christ. Because poverty, alcohol, drugs, violence and suicide are prevalent with this demographic, heavy outreach to Lakota youth is important, Zanne Ness said. Other ministries address poverty such as the construction of tiny homes, around 600 square-feet or less, to provide affordable housing.

    Northwest of Standing Rock where the hills of the Great Plains begin to give way to striking colors and formations of the badlands, the culture shifts into the waning phase of a post oil boom economy where the slowdown of drilling has dwindled the transient population, and decreased the demand for new infrastructure such as roads, schools and housing. It is in this part of the state where ecumenical ministry plays an important role in the diocese, particularly for smaller parishes that cannot afford a full-time priest. Such is the case in Dickinson where the Rev. Ellery Dykeman and his wife, Deacon Anna Dykeman serve St. John’s Episcopal Church and two Lutheran churches. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Episcopal Church are full-communion partners, allowing the Dykeman’s, who are Lutheran, to serve in an Episcopal church. The Dykeman’s live in a house owned by St. John’s that is next door to the church, which is useful in times when oil production and real estate is high. However, the multiple jobs mean that Sunday mornings call for three services in two towns. A few times a year the churches share a service, a potluck meal and fellowship, Ellery Dykeman said. “It allows everyone to see each other’s church, and learn how others worship.” The Dykeman’s said they love both denominations and are enjoying learning about the Episcopal Church. “We are a mission restart on life-support, reimagining how to be a successful church,” Ellery Dykeman said. “Ecumenically it has been amazing.”

    Working with Lutheran clergy has been a successful venture, particularly in instances where the job is part-time. “The partnerships with the Lutherans has been beneficial to all,” Smith said. “They look at things differently, and they are very encouraging to people in their spiritual lives.” In the Red River Valley on the eastern border of the state in Fargo, the Very Rev. Father Mark Strobel, who is the dean of Gethsemane Episcopal Cathedral, is also a Lutheran minister. “I don’t know what we would do without them to help us out,” Smith said. “I’ve learned to go to the Lutheran bishops to see who is available. We’ve been blessed to have them.” The Cathedral has focused its Christian formation studies on the St. John’s Bible, which is the first illuminated, handwritten Bible in 50 years to be commissioned by a Benedictine monastery, and is on display at the church. The 1,130 pages are artistically created with materials such as vellum, ancient inks, and gold leaf. The Bible was handwritten with quill pens by dozens of scribes. The book’s art and theology will be shared with the public in classes, lectures and worship, Strobel said. “Our goal is to engage the community,” he said. The Cathedral, which is Prairie Gothic architecture, is home to worship, Christian formation classes and mission, Strobel said. Members of the church recently traveled to England on an Anglican Heritage Pilgrimage that included choral evensong at Westminster Abbey and a candlelight tour of Canterbury Cathedral. “It put flesh and bone on part of our history,” Smith said. 

    The cathedral, which is in Fargo, houses the bishop’s office. This calls for a lot of driving to get to other parishes in the state. For instance, to get from Fargo on the eastern border of the state to a church in Williston in the western quadrant is a six and half hour drive. “A three-hour drive is a good Sunday,” Smith noted. Smith’s permanent residence is in Buffalo, Minnesota with his wife, Lisa, but he keeps an apartment in Fargo near the diocesan office. On a recent Sunday, Smith drove from Fargo to Oakes near the South Dakota border to give the homily at St. Mary and St. Mark Episcopal Church. Afterward parishioners met in the parish hall for a homemade lunch of pork and salads. “I love the potlucks and talking to the parishioners,” Smith said. The bishop was not always an Episcopalian. He was raised in the Roman Catholic Church but grew up with Southern Baptist friends who also influenced his spiritual formation. He recalled that in his youth he went with his friends to a Baptist retreat in Oklahoma’s Arbuckle Mountains. “They scared me to death with questions about if you died tonight where would you go, and are you saved? I wouldn’t give them the answers they wanted to hear, but as a teenager they caused me to think about deeper spiritual issues.” Later, he knew he felt called to preach, met his future wife, and discovered the Episcopal Church realizing he could have the best of both worlds as an Anglican. He has degrees from Oklahoma State University, the University of Oklahoma and Seabury-Western Theological Seminary. He is currently working on a Doctorate of Ministry from Aquinas Institute in St. Louis. Smith said he is excited for his extended visit to the Dallas diocese and looks forward to meeting people. He will arrive in Dallas after Easter and begin serving in diocesan churches starting April 23 at Holy Trinity in Garland. Smith is also scheduled to serve at Incarnation, April 30; Saint Michael and All Angels, May 7; St. Christopher’s, May 14; and at St. John’s in Pottsboro, May 21.