In 1835, Jackson Kemper was consecrated as the Episcopal Church’s first missionary bishop. This was an acknowledgment that the Church needed to address the growing spiritual needs of the American frontier.
It’s exhausting to even read about his accomplishments in what was originally known as the Northwest Territory. I mean, if Kemper was awarded frequent flyer miles for his horseback adventures, he’d be flying first class for the rest of his life.
Along the way, he founded parishes in Indiana, Missouri, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Nebraska along with Nashotah House Seminary and Racine College. He was particularly passionate about working with indigenous people and translating Scripture and liturgy into native languages.
As a proponent of the Oxford Movement (aka Anglo-Catholicism), his influence is still felt in the high church dioceses of the midwest, which is still known in some circles as the Biretta Belt.
Kemper’s missionary zeal is impressive and inspiring. But hopefully, it’s not just a thing of the past, an archival approach to ministry. As we enter the era of the post-pandemic church, we need Kemper’s clarity of vision and passion for the gospel now more than ever.
Bishop Pierre Whalon, chair of the House of Bishops Ecclesiology Committee and former Bishop of the Convocation of the Episcopal Churches in Europe, claims that “Cyberspace is the new mission field.” And, while it’s taken the Church too long to recognize this, the pandemic has made this reality abundantly clear.
I view hybrid ministry, the blending of in-person and online faith experiences, as the key to embracing the missionary spirit of Bishop Kemper. Through it, we can maintain the tradition of the Church, while communicating the gospel of Jesus Christ in fresh and engaging ways.
By the standards of the American West, we may no longer be on the frontier. But seen through the lens of a disruptive global pandemic, when it comes to hybrid ministry, that’s exactly where we are.
Collect for Jackson Kemper
O God, who sent your son Jesus Christ to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near, Grant that we, like your servant Jackson Kemper, may proclaim the Gospel in our own day, with courage, vision, and perseverance; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, now and for ever. Amen.
Learning Forte’s Digital Ministry Initiative, in partnership with LEAD, with funding provided in part by a leadership grant from Trinity Church Wall Street.
The Rev. Tim Schenck is Rector of the Episcopal Parish of St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, MA, and co-faciltator of Leaders for Hybrid Ministry: A Community of Practice.