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VTS Alum John Tarrant Consecrated as Bishop Coadjutor of South Dakota

[Episcopal News Service]
About 600 Episcopalians, ecumenical guests, and local dignitaries gathered October 31 at the Sioux Falls Convention Center to celebrate the consecration of the Rt. Rev. John Tarrant (VTS '83) as bishop coadjutor of the Episcopal Diocese of South Dakota.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori officiated at the two-hour ceremony, which was live-streamed and included hymns representative of some of the diocese's congregations, sung in Lakota/Dakota and English as well as in the Dinka language of a local Sudanese congregation's choir.

"We have many challenges in our diocese, but many opportunities, too," said Tarrant recently. "About two thirds of our churches are on reservations, and five of the poorest counties in the nation are in South Dakota," added Tarrant, 57, who was elected May 9 to serve the state's approximately 12,000 baptized Episcopalians, about half of whom are Native American.

"I believe the church can make a difference," he added, despite noting a state suicide rate among Native Americans more than three times the national average. "We want to encourage and develop ministries that will provide support and hope at a time when many are feeling lost and disconnected. That's the mission of the church."

Tarrant will become the diocese's 10th bishop upon the retirement of Creighton Robertson, South Dakota's first Native American diocesan bishop, who was consecrated in 1994. Robertson, who was present at Saturday's ceremony, is expected to retire at the end of the year.

The celebration and a reception afterwards at the Calvary Cathedral in Sioux Falls, were intended to be festive, but sensitive to difficult economic times, Tarrant said during a telephone interview last week. He said he expected attendance to be affected by a tough flu season and blizzard that immobilized portions of the state.

At Saturday's celebration, Tarrant sported a hand-made wooden crozier, crafted by local artist Ken Salisbury, and white and gold vestments hand-stitched by Brother Sebastian Goldade of the nearby Blue Cloud Benedictine Abbey.

"It's lightweight fabric, very plain, but a nice design," Goldade said during a telephone interview last week. "He wanted simple, not too elaborate," said Goldade, who added that he prayed as he created Tarrant's miter, and robes.

"I just wish him the very best in years to come," he added.

Bishop Gordon Scruton of Western Massachusetts was guest homilist. Also in attendance were President of the House of Deputies Bonnie Anderson; former South Dakota Bishop Craig Anderson; Bishop Lawrence Provenzano of Long Island; and bishops and representatives from the Episcopal, Lutheran, United Methodist, Catholic churches as well as a representative from the Mennonite churches.

Tarrant was no stranger to the diocese; he served as rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Pierre from September 2005 until assuming duties for the diocese on October 1.

A cradle Episcopalian, he felt called the priesthood because of the church's "profound influence" on his own family while growing up in Millington, Michigan, in the "thumb" area of the state. He earned a bachelor's degree in political science from Michigan State University in 1974, and a master of divinity degree from Virginia Theological Seminary in 1983.

Prior to moving to South Dakota he served parishes in Western Massachusetts and Connecticut. He and his wife Patricia are parents of a blended family of 11 grown children.

The Diocese of South Dakota is composed of 76 churches in South Dakota (and including two churches in Nebraska and one church in Minnesota), about half of which are located on reservations.

Tarrant said he has great hopes for the diocese, but added that any future vision would only be cast in collaboration with its people.

"God places the vision within the midst of people. One of the roles of leadership is to be in the presence of the people and to listen and to help them articulate the vision God has placed there," he said.

Adding that he's had the advantage of four year's experience and of listening to the people of the diocese already, he said: "The church needs to become the Body of Christ again. We need to remember who we are and to whom we belong and who we are to serve."

He said he is open to reconnecting with churches located on the Pine Ridge Reservation whose properties were returned to the local tribe last year because of congregational inactivity.

"We'll support them in any reasonable way we can ... and seeing how to move forward as the Body of Christ," he said.

"It's an exciting time to be a priest and a bishop in the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of South Dakota," he added. "There's much hope, many opportunities and God will enable our faithfulness and I believe that to the depths of who I am."

-- The Rev. Pat McCaughan is Episcopal News Service correspondent for Provinces VII and VIII and the House of Bishops. She is based in Los Angeles.