Editor’s note: This is the final Catholic Anchor column by Anchorage Archbishop Paul Etienne. As of June 7 he will be the new coadjutor archbishop of Seattle.
“They (Paul and Barnabas) strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith…” (Acts 14:22)
As one reads the Acts of the Apostles, there is a long list of communities that received the Apostles, and marked the places where the Gospel was first preached, and the faith first took hold. As a successor to the Apostles, I now add to that list of communities those of central Alaska where I have continued to preach the Good News, where the faith continues to flourish, from Dutch Harbor to Cordova, Talkeetna to Kodiak.
From my early days, I was amazed at the diversity of this population and the depth of your faith. With each trip to our different communities, I learned more about the history and geography of Alaska and the way of life that defines so many of our people. I have been blessed to experience and to be a part of the church in Alaska. You are such a blessing to me.
Collaborators in ministry
Saints Paul and Barnabas are just one set of collaborators in ministry during the early days of the church. There have been many down through the centuries. I will remain ever grateful for the priests, deacons, religious and chancery and parish staff who are partners in the Gospel here. Similarly, I have much admiration and gratitude for the professional lay men and women who populate our various boards and committees. It has been a privilege to serve with all of you. Many of you serve as my inspiration to keep striving in my own life for greater love and generosity in serving God’s holy people.
As I leave Alaska and take up my new responsibilities in Seattle, I leave behind a unique experience of faith, namely, serving as a bishop in “mission territory.” Used in this context, the word mission means a local church that relies upon the broader church to assist them with the financial and human resources necessary to carry on the church’s basic ministries. The Archdiocese of Anchorage is blessed with many generous supporters, both local and national.
I wish to express my gratitude to all of you who have so graciously supported the work of our parishes, schools, seminarians, Catholic Social Services and of the archdiocese. There is no doubt in my mind that this mission experience of nearly 10 years (counting my time in Wyoming) as a bishop has not only broadened my understanding of church, but will also strongly influence my future years of episcopal leadership and ministry.
Members of the family of faith
As mentioned earlier, there is an incredible diversity in the population of Alaska. Similarly, there is great diversity in peoples’ faith experience and faith expression. But, amid all this diversity is one reality: We believe that Jesus Christ is Lord, and that faith in him is essential. We believe that Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead so that we might live forever through, with, and in, him. This, above all else, is essential.
No matter who you are, no matter what you have done, no matter your history, Jesus Christ offers all of us the same gift, namely, the possibility of the forgiveness of our sins and newness of life in him. I pray you keep inviting others to enter this life-giving relationship with Jesus.
There was great diversity even among the 12 Apostles, and yet Jesus gave to each of them and to their successors a commission to preach the Good News, to watch over the flock, and to sanctify God’s people. They lived as witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ and invited others to the same faith.
I thank you for welcoming me as one of the successors of the Apostles. I am grateful for the privilege it has been to serve you; to not only witness to the faith, but to witness your faith as well. As you have allowed me to simply be “me,” with all my limitations and gifts, so now, I ask that you allow my successor to simply be himself. Pray for him, welcome him, support him, encourage him.
Please know that with each move in ministry, a part of me remains behind with those whom I have served. Likewise, you have now become a part of me, and will go with me into the unknown future. As I assure you of my prayers, I humbly ask for yours.
Like Saint Paul, I can find no better parting words for you than these, “Persevere in the faith.”
The writer is Archbishop of Anchorage.