There’s a cowboy in the jungle

And he looks so out of place

With his shrimpskin boots and his cheap Cheroots

And his skin as white as paste…Jimmy Buffett

Over the last 10 days, I have been in the Philippines.  I am sure there are many questions why, and so today, and in the days to come I want to answer that question in as much detail as I can.  This actually goes all the way back to the last General Convention when I met Floyd Lawlet, National Development Officer for the Episcopal Church in the Philippines.  He briefly stated that he hoped we could develop a closer relationship between the Diocese of Olympia and the Church in the Philippines.  From there Mike Schutt, Environmental Officer for the Episcopal Church, who resides in Seattle, got into the picture posing a possible companion relationship based on the environment.  One day, along the way, I received an email from the Rt. Rev. Danilo Bustamante, Bishop of the Southern Philippines, hoping we might explore a partnership.

Over the last two years we have emailed often, we have visited, first JB Hoover and Nancy McConnell of our Diocesan Committee on the Environment, and then in this last week or so, finally, me.  The Diocese of the Southern Philippines is basically the entire island of Mindanao, which if you read State Department briefings, is clearly on the list of places Americans should not visit or travel.  That is understood when you are there, and yet they yearn for connection.  The Cathedral and Bishop’s residence, where I stayed for two nights, is in Cotobato City, which is currently under a state of emergency due to bombings and unrest due to Muslim extremists.  Bishop Bustamante was always very understanding of this, and clear as well, and yet also committed to providing security and a good experience of the diversity and great energy of the diocese.  This is exactly what I experienced.

In the Diocese of the Southern Philippines the environmental concerns are many with two specific concerns, great deforestation and mining, which both are taking a toll on the land.  You may remember the recent floods, which were in EDSP, and much of the landslide and death experienced in that event, which had never happened before in that region, occurred because of climate change, whatever its cause, and the affects of mining.  EDSP has been a leader in the area in planting trees especially and reclaiming land for the good.

Our relationship had to start with some stark realities, not the least of which is the security situation there, but also the restriction on travel by those residing there.  It is not at all easy for them to come see us here.  The other reality is ours to own, that being that the harm we cause the environment is so great, the magnitude of which makes some there less willing to mitigate their damage.   We have worked on that, and have developed a covenant which calls on us to reduce our carbon footprint and calls on EDSP to increase their efforts in tree planting.

So, in these last days that is where I have traveled and learned, and have seen so many of their projects of the past, projects ongoing now, and the plans and dreams for projects of the future.

I was so inspired by the people.  I come home with new friends and excited for the possibility of this relationship for the years to come.  I decided, due to the lack of internet connection in some places, and the need to focus my time and energy, not to try to blog during the trip, but do intend, over these next days, to relive it day by day on this blog.  I hope, in those days, to introduce you to this remarkable place, serving our Lord in difficult circumstance, but with great joy and commitment.  This will come in story, video, and pictures.

Today, I begin with two videos of the signing of the covenant between Olympia and EDSP.  This occurred last Sunday at Church of the Good Shepherd in Zamboanga City.    I will never be able to fully convey to you how meaningful my presence, and that prior of JB and Nancy, were to our brothers and sisters there or how meaningful it was to them to actually sign a companion document in their diocese, where in all other cases it had happened somewhere else.

I quoted the lyrics at the beginning of this writing from one of my favorite songs, that, in a way, came true on this trip.  At one point Bishop Dan declared me a “cowboy”, I am sure mostly because of my accent, but there it was, and my skin, now living in this part of the world, is surely white as paste, and I started this trip feeling very much out of place, but it certainly did not end that way!

So, I give you the first videos of our signing, I give you the actual companion document,  and the sermon I preached that day, and I invite you to journey along with me over the next days as I introduce you to the Episcopal Diocese of the Southern Philippines, our new partners in mission with a special focus on the environment, this earth we have been given to cherish and protect.



Here is a short, less than one minute video:

And here is one, about 11 minutes, much more thorough:


The Rt. Rev. Gregory H. Rickel

Church of the Good Shepherd, Zamboanga City, Mindanao, Philippines

February 5, 2012

Before I launch into my sermon, I want to thank all of you, you have been most gracious in your welcome to me, your Rector got his office yesterday all ready for a siesta for me, and then Bong had to whisk me away, and the food for lunch yesterday by your ECW!, and your Brotherhood of St. Andrew’s I met, so excited because I have just become a brother and we are growing ours in Olympia, yet another connection we have, and I hope you will carry my thanks to those people in this parish and diocese that you know that could not be here or in any other place to hear me say it.  I am blessed by you. Our diocese, The Diocese of Olympia in Washington state,  is blessed by you and I thank you. 


I also want to say that I talk funny.   Someone asked me in Manila at the national office, finally, after hearing me talk, now what part of the US are you from?  Do all people from your part of the US talk like you?  No, I said, a lot of the people in my part of the US I live in now need a translator when they hear me talk, even though it is English.  So, you may even be having a more difficult time with hearing me.  I am from the South in the US, what some people call “the Country” and my talk is “country talk” which I am proud of, but may make your task of listening a bit more difficult.  If so, I apologize.


Map in gestures!


In just a moment Bishop Bustamante and I will sign a covenant.   I looked up the word covenant, not sure if you have such a word, perhaps you do, and if you do, it is usually better than our words, but anyway, our word says this, 


A covenant is a solemn agreement to engage in or refrain from a specified action.   For our covenant, it is mostly about engaging, but I would say it is also about refraining.  We are vowing to engage in good environmental practices, ones that make sense for you and for Olympia, in our context.   We are promising to engage in good faith at working together, even as we are



We are also saying we will refrain from sloth, from any laziness in this work, which might be easy to come when we are really so far apart.  We have to guard against this because relationship is really where all this started. 


Your bishop, was bold enough to reach out to me and ask, that he and I enter into discussions, and then as those discussions continued, with many faithful people engaged too, some in this room, some back in Seattle and the Diocese of Olympia, eager to make this relationship work, he hung in there with me when I had planned to be here a year ago but could not, and now, finally I stand with you, and in just a moment we will sign the covenant.  We have done a lot to get to this moment, and it is a great thing, but it is hardly an end, and we would do our relationship a great disservice to see it that way. 


This today is the culmination of great work, but it is more than anything a new beginning, the bringing together of different peoples, in different lands, but with many things the same, not the least of which is our belief in the power and the connection we share in Jesus Christ.  In that we are connected as in no other way.  But we have chosen to base that connection, and to find our work together in our environment, the care of this earth you and I live on, you on one side of it, me on the other, but all of us citizens of that neighborhood in this universe that we call Earth.


Why would we do this?  To protect the earth we have been given to cherish and protect by our God, most certainly, but why, put the Diocese of the Southern Philippines and Olympia together.  Well, I would like to turn to Paul today in I Corinthians.  Do you know about the Corinthians?  Do you know, it was a seaport town, much like this one and much like the town I live in. 


Corinth had all kinds of wild things going on it, and even the people in the Church that Paul addresses in this letter, and a church that he loves, even they are a bit wild.  I mean, they are doing some things he cannot imagine.   Don’t you think God looks at your town and sometimes thinks the same, I know God look at Seattle and thinks that! 


Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is a letter responding, most scholars think, to a letter sent to him, by them, asking some specific questions.   And the first letter contains his answers. 


Paul starts off this passage by explaining what a commissioning from God is.  It is not necessarily doing what you want to do for God, but doing what God wants you to do.  Those are not always the same.  Do you understand what I am saying to you?  A



Yes, today we sign a covenant, but what it does is commission all of us, all of you in this diocese, all of us in ours, to care for this relationship, by working and praying together, by caring and praying for each other and this earth.  In a covenant, we care for each other by living up to our end, by doing what we said we would do. 


Paul goes on in his letter and basically says, sometimes I have to do things I might not do, eat things I might not like to eat (by the way do not worry, if you have been one of the people who have fed me while hear, I LOVE IT!) I am not talking about me, but you know, sometimes that is how it is, and Paul was saying the same.  Because, as Christians, baptized into the Body of Christ, we have been commissioned to follow not always what we want, but what God wants.  What that is, is not always easy to figure out.  That is why God gave us each other.


So, Paul asks these questions of himself, why do I do these things?  Why he asks, and by asking, tells the Corinthians, who in all of their craziness have gotten rather strict, kind of literal, unbending.   And Paul is really telling them, hey lighten up a bit.  Relax a bit.  Bend a little more.  His answer to them, is our answer.  I do all of these things because of the Gospel, so that I might be a participant in it.   That I might share in its blessings. 


That is the reason for us to be in this covenant and to take it seriously.  For doing that, we, you here in the Southern Philippines, and we in the Diocese of Olympia, together will proclaim the Gospel, so that we might participate in it, be blessed by it, grow together, and do a lot in the meantime for God’s creation he gave us to care for and protect. 


Bishop Bustamante, people of Good Shepherd and the Diocese of Southern Philippines, I, Bishop Rickel, and we the Diocese of Olympia, are in this for the long term, we want this relationship to grow, even from a distance, as we work together, as we honor and fully engage in this covenant with one another. 


Today, in this beginning, the Gospel will be proclaimed and the Body of Christ will be made stronger.  Thank you all for the blessing of our relationship, those we have now, and those yet to come. Amen!

A Caring for All Creation Partnership

– A Memorandum of Understanding between the Episcopal Diocese of the Southern Philippines

and the Diocese of Olympia, Washington, USA –

The Dioceses of the Southern Philippines and of Olympia, Western Washington, agree to establish a carbon offset project.

  1. The Episcopal Diocese of the Southern Philippines (EDSP) will establish and maintain at least one nursery project at one of its churches or missions.  Parishioners or other workers will propagate, grow, and distribute seedlings of mahogany, rubber, coffee or other species which, when planted, will sequester carbon for a minimum of ten years and which will also combat deforestation.  Workers in the nursery will receive seedlings in compensation for their labor.  Other seedlings will be sold to offset costs of maintaining the nursery.  Preference will be given to buyers who participate in local environmental efforts to suppress charcoal burning and to replace trees lost to deforestation.  Buyers must agree to oversight of their plantings by the EDSP and / or the carbon offset project steering committee.
  1. The Episcopal Diocese of the Southern Philippines will maintain records which specify the number of seedlings raised, sold and planted.  Records will also monitor the maintenance of the plantings and their duration over time.  This data will be used to compute a fair market value for tons of carbon sequestered.  A percentage (to be negotiated) from the sale of carbon offsets will be provided to the EDSP to cover administrative costs.
  1. The Diocese of Olympia (DoO) agrees to encourage the purchase of carbon offsets from the EDSP.  Such offsets will be used to offset carbon emissions from travel by the clergy and staff of the DoO.  Churches and missions of the DoO that are enrolled in one of its greening paths may also purchase carbon offsets to enable them to reach the Genesis Covenant target of a 50% reduction of carbon dioxide emissions or to reach carbon neutrality.  No DoO church may participate unless it is 1) a greening congregation of Earth Ministry; 2) a Green Faith congregation; or 3) a congregation using the EPA’s carbon calculator for Houses of Worship to track energy use and with an active eco-justice or green committee.
  1. The carbon offset project steering committee will consist of an equal number from each diocese and a chair.  The committee and chair will be appointed by the bishops of the EDSP and the DoO.  A maximum of 5 technical advisors will be asked to serve permanently on the committee, but other technical advisors may provide assistance to the committee during its deliberations.
  1. Terms of agreement
  1. It is agreed that the Term of the Memorandum is five (5) years from the date of signing and is renewable for an additional five (5) year term upon the written consent of both partners,  provided however that any projects are subject to periodic review and assessment.
  2. Any amendments to this Memorandum must be in writing for the mutual benefit of both parties and be approved by the steering committee and both diocesan bishops.

The Memorandum may be terminated by mutual agreement of the Diocese of the Southern Philippines and the Diocese of Olympia.

Signed this 5th day of February in the year of our Lord, Two Thousand and Twelve.

The Rt. Rev. Gregory H. Rickel       The Rt. Rev. Danilo Bustamante