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Bishop Jackson Kemper

Bishop Jackson Kemper

by Liz Goodyear Jones

“Here lies in hope the body of Jackson Kemper”

So reads the headstone at Nashotah House Cemetery, of The Right Reverend Jackson Kemper, (1789 – 1870)

It’s a simple enough epitaph, particularly in these complex times, for a man who was named first missionary bishop in the Episcopal Church in the US. He founded churches first in West Virginia, then moved West to do the same in Indiana and Missouri. He also founded Racine college in Wisconsin and Nashotah House in 1842, where he lived until his death at the age of 80.

Bishop Kemper was married twice, both times in his early years. His wives died in their twenties, the second Ann Relf, left him with three little children, whom he also carried West to the frontier, along with two sisters.

He is known for constantly urging outreach to the Native American people and translations of the scriptures and the services of the church into their language. His first official act as missionary bishop, of what would become Wisconsin, was creating the Hobart Church at Duck Creek, to serve the Oneida Indian Mission. Regularly invited to the Oneida reservation by Chief Daniel Bread, he ordained Enmegahbowh, of the Ottawa tribe, as deacon in 1859.

It is clear to me that this big, big life was fueled by a love for God and the  hope of the Gospel. 

I am currently in a study called Sacred Ground, born out of Presiding Bishop Curry’s mandate, Becoming Beloved Community. It is, of course, the re-listening, deep listening, heart-felt inner listening, to the stories of all of us who make up this country, whose voices have been silenced, marginalized, left out and unheard. Native American, African American, Asian American, Hispanic American-all parts of a whole quilt, that includes the rest of us, Jackson Kemper as well. 

This gorgeous tapestry of people, human beings, who make up what we call the United States. It is a privilege and an honor to hear their story. It gives me great hope. 

The Reverend Liz Goodyear Jones lives on the Mississippi Gulf Coast with her husband, a jazz musician and contemporary artist, as well as their two kitties, King Leo and Taj Mahal. 


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And the very last act of Bishop Kemper before he left the Midwest mission field and became the Bishop of Wisconsin was in Minnesota where in 1859 he ordained the Ojibwe Enmegahbowh (John Johnson) as Deacon—making him he only ordained person in the northern half of Minnesota——all “Indian/Country.”

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