Minutes after he had hands laid on him by bishops passing on apostleship from the beginning of the Christian church, newly made Bishop Jonathan Folts told his new flock they were part of Episcopal history being made on Saturday in Pierre.
“Today is the beginning of a new chapter in the life of the Diocese of South Dakota,” he told the congregation of about 320 in the theater at Riggs High School in Pierre. “It’s not a new story.”
Folts and the two-hour ceremony and worship service on Saturday, Nov. 2, told the old story, that the gospel of Jesus Christ has been handed down from the beginning until today.
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, head of the Episcopal Church, with 10 other bishops surrounded Folts as he knelt and laid hands on him, the act seen as passing down the apostolic office from the time of Jesus.
They prayed: “Father, make Jonathan a bishop in your church. Pour out upon him the power of your princely spirit, whom you bestowed upon your beloved son, Jesus Christ, with whom he endowed the apostles and by whom your Church is built up in every place . . . “
Bishop John Tarrant, who retired this year after 10 years leading the South Dakota diocese, handed the bishop’s crozier, the shepherd’s staff, to Folts, his successor as chief pastor of the diocese.
Curry called to the congregation in the theater, and South Dakota, to “Greet the new bishop and his family.”
Elected by the diocese at its convention in May in First United Methodist Church in Pierre, Folts has been acting bishop since August.
He praised his predecessor Tarrant for moving the bishop’s residence and offices to Pierre from Sioux Falls in 2015, making it more accessible to everyone in the state-wide diocese.
Folts has been a priest for 15 years in Connecticut. His wife, the Rev. Kimberly Folts and their three children, took part in Saturday’s ceremony.
Their two sons are in college and the Rev. Kimberly Folts will stay in Connecticut until next year while their daughter finishes high school, Bishop Folts said.
Unique in the Episcopal Church, the South Dakota diocese has a majority of Native Americans.
Part of the liturgy was sung in Lakota and gospel lesson from John was read in Lakota as well as in English. Diocesan members draped Presiding Bishop Curry with a star quilt during the ceremony.
Folts’ father, Bishop James Folts, retired bishop of the West Texas diocese, gave the sermon on Saturday at his son’s ordination. And didn’t stint. It was a half hour, including hard points and folksy barbs that brought laughter.
He turned the humor on in the Episcopal Church, a little, reminding congregants its main mission is to bring people in, although the denomination has lost nearly half the 3.5 million members it had at its peak in 1960.
Retired Bishop Folts said an Baptist pastor friend in Texas used to gibe him about why “you Episcopalians don’t like to talk about numbers. Cuz you ain’t got any.”
Preaching directly to his son, Folts said the Episcopal Church too much as been enchanted with its own “coziness and quaintness,” as a way to avoid talking about declining numbers.
But the Christian church “is the only organization in the world that exists mainly for those who do not belong to it,” senior Bishop Folts said.
He told his son to be a “vision caster,” as bishop in leading his diocese. He told his son that “Jesus made apostles and the apostles made disciples and those disciples grew the church.”
Now as a newly made bishop, he’s a “direct historical descendant of those first apostles,” retired Bishop Folts told his son.
Diocesan spokeswoman the Rev. Lauren Stanley said it’s rare to have a bishop be ordained in part by his father, especially if the father, as a bishop, preached at the ordination/consecration service. The last words of the senior Folts' sermon were to his son: “I love you.”
The new Bishop Folts told the Capital Journal he sees the unique nature of the diocese as having more Native Americans than any other Episcopal diocese.
The diocese’s history stems from U.S. government policies in the mid-1860s in chasing and resettling Dakotas from Minnesota to a reservation on the Missouri River southeast of Pierre.
The Rev. Patricia White Horse-Carda of Wagner, is the only Native American woman serving as a priest in the diocese, in the far southeast corner of the state.
“I have four churches for the Santee and Yankton Mission Churches. Two of them are in Nebraska and two in South Dakota,” she said Saturday before the ordination service.
She became a priest nine years ago after retiring from 28 years teaching public school in Wagner and illustrates the history of the Episcopal Christian faith among the state’s American Indians.
“I’ve gone to church since I could walk. I was baptized and confirmed in the Episcopal Church. My family was always in church.”
Like it is nationwide, that is not the model for as many people any more in South Dakota, white or Native American, she says.
“We are working at having more youth, like many other denominations,” White Horse-Carda said.
The Rev. Isaiah Brokenleg is a young priest, ordained in 2018, who grew up on the Rosebud reservation. With White Horse-Carda, he’s one of a handful of Native American priests in the diocese which should reflect more in its leadership the general population which is mostly Native, he said.
Brokenleg, a priest in Watertown, said before Saturday’s ordination, that he was encouraged getting to know the new bishop because “he focuses on relational ministry.”
That will help bring more people together in the diocese, including young people on the reservations, said Brokenleg, the son and nephew of priests.
“Ministry is not something to be done TO someone but WITH someone,” he said. “Ideally the clergy should reflect the people of the diocese, like our church should reflect the people of our state.”
On Friday morning, Curry and Folts held a news conference in Trinity Episcopal Church across the street from Riggs High.
Folts, who was 51 when he was elected bishop in May to lead the 9,000 members of the Episcopal Diocese of South Dakota, said he sees many similarities of between South Dakota and the West Texas diocese where he grew up. Mostly in ranching and farming, big spaces and small population, he said.
But also has seen how “relational,” the diocese is, with people and parishes welcoming in a stranger, with a potluck meal everywhere he goes, Folts said.
He looks forward to spending a lot of “windshield time” visiting his far-flung 78 parishes, 50 of them on the nine Indian reservations in the diocese. Two of the parishes are in Nebraska, one in Minnesota.
Presiding Bishop Curry, 66, has become a world figure of sorts since his ordination in 2015 as the first African-American head of the 1.8-million-member Episcopal Church. His ancestors were slaves in Africa brought in chains to America, according to his biography on the church’s website. His parents were devout Episcopalians, his father a priest.
In May 2018, Curry preached the sermon at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in Windsor Castle, and received rather rave reviews from many.
Saturday Night Live even did a sketch about Curry’s part in the royal wedding.
Last December, Curry was part of the funeral service for former President George H.W. Bush in Curry’s parish, Washington National Cathedral.
Curry also has represented the politically and socially liberal profile of the Episcopal Church locally in September, 2016, during the protest against the Dakota Access pipeline, when he visited the Standing Rock Sioux tribe south of Bismarck to tell them that he and the Episcopal Church stood with them in opposing the pipeline
The Rev. Lauren Stanley, priest of the Episcopal mission on the Rosebud Indian Reservation and a former newspaper editor in Bismarck, moderated the news conference on Friday.
She got down to the Plains basics with Curry about his first trip to South Dakota: “Are you going pheasant hunting?” Curry laughed, saying he sort of just went on his first one. His flight from Denver to Pierre “was filled with people who were going pheasant hunting,” and that’s all they were talking about, Curry said. “So I feel like I have already been on a pheasant hunt.”