I was a stranger …

June 18, 2018
… I was a stranger and you welcomed me. (Mt. 25: 35b)

Dear Friends,
The recent news from south Texas regarding the separation of immigrant families is deeply troubling. It troubles me as a parent who only yesterday celebrated the joy of fatherhood with my daughters. It troubles me as an American, in fact, the grandson of an immigrant who came seeking a better life. Finally, I’m troubled as a Christian. particularly since some in power have tried to justify the separation of parents and children using Holy Scripture and Christian tradition. I share a quote from my colleague, Bishop Tom Briedenthal of Southern Ohio:

“I acknowledge the wide spectrum of opinion in America regarding unchecked entry from Latin America. But the forced separation of families as a deterrent to border-crossing is essentially immoral. For Christians and most people of religious faith, the sanctity of the family is a bedrock. Why? Because it is in the faithfulness of spouses to one another and to the children in their care that the fundamental virtues of life in community are developed and practiced. Families in all their various configurations — and there are many— are the building-blocks of society and need to be supported and protected in every way.”

“There is no question that the forced separation of families at our borders can be a powerful disincentive to entry. But this strategy damages our own commitment as a nation to the value of family life. Worse yet, it takes advantage of a value that transcends national interest. The bond that unites parent to child is universal. To honor that bond is to rebuild the unity of the human race from the ground up.”

Our prayers should be offered for the immigrant families who find themselves living through this traumatic time. Likewise, our prayers are offered for the relief workers and volunteers who do their best to comfort the children that are separated from their parents. If you would like to share your concern over this situation I offer some possibilities. First, you may add your name to this letter from the people of St. Columb’s in Ridgeland, MS by emailing stcolumb@stcolumbs.org. Additionally, you can share your concern with your representative by clicking this link and contacting them directly.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and for allowing me to share my anxiety and concern. It is an honor to share ministry with all of you. I will close with a foundational and fundamental portion of our baptismal covenant (BCP 305), and I challenge you to affirm this answer by living fully into this promise, not only in word but through action,

Q. Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
A. I will, with God’s help.

God bless you,

+Brian Seage

Immigrants and the Bible

(Written by the Rev. Luther Ott from a sermon preached at St. Columb’s Episcopal Church in Ridgeland, MS)

For some time now immigrants have been in the news as we, as a nation, have struggled with how to create a just immigration system. After several hundred years of welcoming pretty much everyone, in the 19th and 20th centuries our nation decided we needed to institute controls over who was admitted into the United States. Overall we have a pretty dismal record of organizing that process around the racial and ethnic prejudices of those of us who were in power. For example, at some point we started to dislike the Irish and tried to shut the door on them, and many of us of us of European descent were threatened by the Chinese and Japanese and moved to exclude them. Of course, we allowed Africans in, but as slaves.

Now we have millions of undocumented immigrants who have entered the country in violation of our laws, and we are in a quandry about what to do with them. Recently our government has decided to prosecute all people who enter illegally, and we have started separating the children from their parents while their cases are being processed through the system. To many people of faith, this is an extreme and unjustifiable measure.

This week our Attorney General tried to reassure Christians about all of this by quoting the Bible. He picked the 13th chapter of Romans where the Apostle Paul said: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God”. I must point out that General Sessions left out what Paul said eight verses earlier in his letter that actually addresses the bigger issue at hand: “Let love be genuine…Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to the strangers.”

Since our government official in charge of enforcing our laws has invoked the Bible, I thought we should take a look at what scripture says about immigrants.

In the 19th chapter of Leviticus, we are told to provide for the poor and the foreigner; don’t mistreat the foreigners living among you. Treat them as citizens. Love them as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. In the 10th chapter of Deuteronomy we are told that God loves the stranger, providing them food. And that you should also love the stranger, for you were strangers in Egypt. In the 23rd chapter of Exodus we are told not to oppress an alien for you know the heart of an alien since you were aliens in Egypt.

I think we get the point. Since we all have histories as aliens, strangers and foreigners, we would do well to remember our own stories and the stories of our ancestors when we are considering how to treat the immigrants we encounter. In fact, God commands it.

But our Attorney General was talking about government action, not our individual actions as Christians, right. Well, not so fast.

The Apostle Paul, while a Roman citizen, was not empowered with any ability to influence the Roman Emperor. He had no vote and no voice. That’s not our story, is it? We have voices and votes. That’s good…great, in fact. But it also makes us responsible, doesn’t it?

In our reading from 2 Corinthians today the same Apostle Paul reminds us that “all of us must appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.”

That brings to mind the 25th chapter of Matthew where Jesus, sitting in judgement on the world, separates people like sheep and goats. To those on his right side he offers words of commendation, saying: “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for…I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.” And they say, when did we do this? And Jesus says “just as you have done it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Then Jesus says to the goats on his left side: “You that are accursed, depart from me…for I was a stranger and you did not welcome me…” Then those on the left say: “Lord, when was it when we saw you a stranger and did not take care of you?” And Jesus answers them saying: “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”

At St. Columb’s we are a family of God’s people who come together, among other things, to equip ourselves for Christian service in the world, including discharging our obligations as citizens of this country. As individuals, we understand that we sometimes disagree on how the Christian Gospel calls us to action. We also understand that there are occasions when we should try to combine our voices on important issues as we have done in the past. I believe that meaningful immigration reform and measured and merciful enforcement of our laws, which makes reasonable provision for our safety, is just such an issue. I believe it is time to combine our voices to insist that our leaders to fix this.

To that end, I am sending these words, spoken from the pulpit of St. Columb’s Episcopal Church on June 17, 2018, to our Congressional Delegation, our President, and our Attorney General. Those who wish to join me, are invited to contact the church office this week and ask that your names be added to this document. Those who disagree with these words are encouraged to speak up as you are led by the Spirit.

May God bless you all,

The Rev. Luther S. Ott

A Statement on Church Security

November 19, 2017

Dear Friends,

I’ve received some questions about policy and requests for guidance relating to security in our churches. Let me begin by saying that my heart breaks for the victims, families and communities affected by the various tragedies throughout our county. The violence perpetrated while faithful people gathered to worship or celebrate fellowship is nothing short of evil. It’s impossible to imagine the lasting effect of these traumatic events on the people. involved. As Christian’s we are called to respond with prayer and compassion.

Your church communities may be looking for ways to respond while seeking to assure the faithful of their safety. Given those concerns and questions I’ve included my statement from June of 2016 after the passage of HB786. This statement still represents our policy for the Episcopal Church in Mississippi.

In order to assist with parish concerns you may also visit the following links for information about “active shooter” protocol and training (http://main.mohstraining.com). The Mississippi Department of Homeland Security is offering the CRASE course (Civilian Response to an Active Shooter Event) on multiple occasions in the immediate future. The Diocese of Mississippi is seeking ways to potentially bring this training to interested persons via several regional meetings.

I’m terribly sorry that this note was necessary and that this discussion needs to happen. Our faith in Jesus Christ calls us to sacrifice. Jesus chose the way of non-violence and, in fact, reprimanded Simon Peter who tried to defend him with a sword. Likewise, when he asked his friends to stay awake with him in the Garden of Gethsemane, was he calling for companionship and perhaps security while praying? This is a challenging topic, to say the least. As people of faith we offer our prayers for those affected by all forms of violence and for guidance as we move forward.

Peace be with you,


A statement regarding HB 786
from June 21, 2016
By The Rt. Rev. Brian R. Seage

Dear Friends:

Some of you have asked about my position on House Bill 786, entitled the “Church Protection Act” and known by some as the “Guns in Church” bill.  I have reviewed the bill and discussed it with our Chancellor and Vice Chancellor.

You may recall that we discussed the “concealed carry” law at Clergy Conference a few years ago.  At that time, Bishop Gray made it clear that a decision whether to post church facilities as “no guns allowed” would be local option.  If your parish chose to prohibit guns on your premises that was a choice you were free to make. Likewise, you were free to allow someone to carry a firearm, within the constraints of the law.

HB 786 has been approved by the Legislature and signed by the Governor.  It extends the “Castle Doctrine”, providing individuals who are authorized to function as members of a church security force immunity from liability in the event of an armed confrontation in the congregation. Please note, though, that congregations are not provided the same level of immunity.  There are strict requirements of how a security force within a church is selected and trained. There must also be explicit records of such a team and policy being in place.  It is not permission for anyone who so desires to function as an armed guard of the church.

The policy of local option will remain in place, but you should understand the local congregation and the diocese are not granted full immunity by this law.  If you choose to utilize the law’s provisions, please be very diligent in following and documenting the various steps required by the law.  I would also ask that you notify me, as Bishop, in the event your Vestry chooses to exercise this law’s provisions.

Please let me know if you have questions.

Peace be with you,

Hurricane Harvey Disaster Relief

Episcopal Relief and Development is providing a way to make donations to help victims of Hurricane Harvey . Simply click this link “ERD Harvey relief” to be taken to their donation page. Please continue to lift up in prayer the victims, first responders and all affected by this horrible storm. Recovery will be a long process we will let you know when more efforts become available.

Hopewell Baptist Church

I am profoundly disturbed by the act of violence against Hopewell Baptist Church in Greenville, Mississippi, and the alienation and bigotry it represents.

We have a painful past in Mississippi, and it is a history which, sadly, involves violence under the cover of darkness, along with Molotov cocktails and even dynamite aimed at places of sacred worship and people of faith. Mississippians have shown an intolerance for such acts and we should repudiate those acts in the strongest terms.

Martin Luther King, Jr., said “No one is free until we are all free.” Likewise, no one is free from the shadow cast by violence of this sort until all of us are free from that shadow. No person among us is an island. We are all connected, one to another, even if we choose not to see that connection – connected as Americans, people of God, and human beings.

The level of political discourse in recent months has been troubling. Instead of seeing either side of the aisle as a threat to a way of life, we should see our fellow human beings as seeking to enjoy the blessings our Constitution and system of governance offer.

I hope and trust that law enforcement officials will seek, find, and prosecute the perpetrators of this act. Mississippi and her people are better than this.

The Rt. Rev. Duncan M. Gray, Jr.

Bp Gray Jr.

Mississippi has lost one if its great leaders with the death of Duncan M. Gray, Jr. today. Bishop Gray was a bold but gentle, visionary but grounded, and beloved but humble figure.

He served this Diocese well as Bishop for nearly 20 years. However, his 64 years of ordained life – before, during and after his episcopate – were marked by courage, a yearning for peace and justice, and a dedication to the Gospel which he so clearly proclaimed. His life was profoundly impacted by his dedication to his Lord.

His life and ministry have been concurrent with Mississippi’s struggles to bring about reconciliation, equality and justice for all races. He was on the front line of many of those struggles. He was faithfully accompanied by his wife, Ruthie, who predeceased him. Together they reared two sons and two daughters – all of whom were a source of great pride, and testimony to their parents’ dedication to one another and integrity. His son, Duncan III, ultimately followed his father as a priest and Bishop of Mississippi.
For all his courageous and faithful service, he will be remembered by many clergy, both past and present, simply as a gentle mentor, a wise leader, and a good friend.

Now as much as any time, I am aware that I walk in the steps of a great Bishop. May the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace.+

Statement on HB 1523 – April 5, 2016

Statement by the Rt. Rev. Brian R. Seage,
Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi,
While Traveling on a Mission in Africa

HB 1523 Press Release 040516
April 05, 2016
By The Rt. Rev. Brian R. Seage

Governor Phil Bryant’s approval of House Bill 1523 is deeply disappointing. An anxious majority of both the State House and Senate, with the Governor’s support, have effectively created an additional class of citizens in Mississippi.

I applaud the people of Mississippi who came together to object to this needless piece of legislation. I applaud and thank the representatives of the business community who made their opposition known and will continue to serve all God’s people. I thank all those in government who chose to step up and courageously serve and represent all the people of Mississippi.

Ungrounded fear is never a solid foundation for legislation.  That seems to be the case here. Our beloved state has struggled to move beyond its troubling past but, unfortunately, this legislation has placed Mississippi back in the crosshairs of critical public opinion.
A voice of reason on the floor of the State Senate noted last week that the provisions of this law do not allow any type of action – in the choices of businesses or other institutions – which is not already permissible under the law. That may be true, but the tragic component of this law is that the Legislature and Governor have codified discrimination.

The State of Mississippi will likely find itself in federal courts once again, spending large sums of funds which could have been spent on building the future. Those efforts to defend a culture of fear will likely be futile.

The gracious arms of our Lord are open to all who seek him. As the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement, we continue to open our arms to our brothers and sisters who are adversely affected by this bill. Likewise, our arms are open to those who supported this legislation. New life may be found when we cast out our fear and ground our actions in the love of Christ.

Statement on HB 1523 – March 31, 2016

Statement by the Rt. Rev. Brian R. Seage,
Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi

HB 1523 Press Release – In Light of Senate Passage
March 31, 2016
By The Rt. Rev. Brian R. Seage

I am profoundly disheartened by the Mississippi State Senate’s approval of HB 1523, which codifies discrimination against many Mississippi citizens.

I would respectfully encourage Governor Bryant to veto the bill, if it reaches his desk.

Our baptismal covenant requires that each of us will respect the dignity of every human being. It does not provide an exception to that respect.

The Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi stands as one with our brothers and sisters in the LGBT community and the Human Rights Campaign. We respect their painful journey as they have sought full inclusion in our society. Many of them share a Christian faith that is deep and profound. We should embrace their quest for equality and justice rather than placing obstacles in their pathway.

I am aware that some Christian bodies say this legislation is needed. I disagree. It addresses a conflict which does not exist. The Episcopal Church embraces all persons who seek to follow our Lord, and we honor all persons who yearn for equality in this society. Our doors remain open to all God’s children.

Statement on HB 1523 – March 24, 2016

Statement by the Rt. Rev. Brian R. Seage,
Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi
HB 1523 Press Release
March 24, 2016
By the Rt. Rev. Brian R. Seage

The Mississippi State Senate has on its calendar an unwise, unnecessary and imprudent bill. I would urge that it be allowed to die at the coming deadline for legislative action.

House Bill 1523 would codify discrimination, rather than prevent discrimination as claimed in its title.

One of the hallmarks of our system of laws is a wise principle of separating religious beliefs and practices from the statutes which are enacted into law.  This “Trojan horse” would provide protection under sectarian religious pretense for those who would choose to discriminate against citizens who have the same rights as any of us. The bill would clearly violate the “equal protection” clause of the 14th Amendment to our nation’s Constitution and would likely lead to our state spending its limited funds for an unsuccessful defense in federal courts.

I am aware that the world is changing and familiar norms are fading, partially because of the Supreme Court and partially because of evolving awareness and understanding. I know that such change is painful for many, but we must be mindful of the pain of those who have suffered under old structures. Our baptismal covenant asks us to “strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.”  This is often a challenge, but God calls us to do no less.

I pray that our time and energy will be invested in building a just society that recognizes the gifts of all its people, molding an educational system that is second-to-none, providing healthcare to the needy, and developing an economy that encourages and rewards all our people. During this Holy Week my prayers continue for our elected leaders. I give thanks for their commitment and passion. May the miracle of Easter bring blessings and hope to all.

A Letter from Bishop Seage

Dear Friends,

Thank you for taking the time to read this note. I suspect the attacks in Paris reminded you of the uncertain world in which we live. I share those sentiments. Shortly after the attacks our Presiding Bishop produced a video, which I shared, calling us to pray for the victims, families and people affected by this horrible tragedy. I appreciate Bishop Curry’s pastoral leadership. Bishop Pierre Whalon of the Convocation of American Churches in Europe issued a statement Saturday thanking us for our prayers and support. I urge you to continue to pray for everyone affected by the events in Paris and wider issues.

Several days have passed since the attacks and I would be remiss if I didn’t identify a growing concern — namely, a rising tide of “anti Muslim” sentiment. We are called as people of faith, in our baptismal covenant, to “respect the dignity of every human being.” Muslims throughout the world are speaking up on social media and denouncing the perpetrators of these attacks with the hashtag #NotInMyName. Many Muslims, in France and elsewhere, are continuing to raise their voices in prayer for the victims of this horrendous crime and for their families and loved ones. On Sunday following the attacks, Imams in Paris gathered at the Bataclan concert hall (site of the worst attack) to sing the French national anthem, La Marseillaise, in solidarity with the city and the nation.

My dear friends, I beg of you to love, hold dear, and pray for the beautiful people who have been harmed by these terrorist acts an those who represent the Islamic faith in its true nature and form. We are all part of the human family. Terrorists do not define the Muslim men and women who have been part of our country and world since the earliest of days. As you pray personally or corporately, I invite you to offer the following prayer from our Book of Common Prayer (pg. 840 #7).

For the Diversity of Races and Cultures

O God, who created all peoples in your image, we thank you for the wonderful diversity of races and cultures in this world. Enrich our lives by everwidening circles of fellowship, and show us your presence in those who differ most from us, until our knowledge of your love is made perfect in our love for all your children; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

May the Peace of the Lord be Always with You,

+Brian Seage