02-05-08-CHN07Bishop Richard J. Sklba stands next to a representative of the Coptic Orthodox Church Feb. 5, 2008, when Pope Shenouda III, spiritual leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church, visited to consecrate St. Mary and St. Antonious Coptic Orthodox Church in Oak Creek. “It’s a moment to express our deepest bond in faith. We are, as we say, an imperfect communion, divided in some things in structure and the words in which we describe the mystery of Christ, but it’s important for us to welcome a religious leader of that significance,” Bishop Sklba said. (Catholic Herald file photo by Allen Fredrickson)Bishop Richard J. Sklba has been an instrumental force behind the development of ecumenical dialogue and interfaith relations during the 31 years he’s been an auxiliary in the Milwaukee Archdiocese.

“Being the Lutheran bishop in Milwaukee, I worked with him quite a bit through interfaith conversations, and also just personally he was always just a good friend and a wise mentor, and somebody very open to ecumenical dialogue,” explained Rev. Paul Stumme-Diers, former bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in the Greater Milwaukee Synod. In September 2009, Rev. Stumme-Diers resigned as bishop to lead a small island church in Washington state.

Although he enjoys his new position as pastor of Bethany Lutheran Church in Bainbridge Island, Wash., he said he will never forget his memories of working with Bishop Sklba to further dialogue between Catholics and Lutherans in both a local and national setting.

“I remember him speaking and being very well received at one of our national conventions, probably in about 2006. Also he spoke at the Greater Milwaukee Synod Assembly on occasion, and again was received as a great friend and partner in ministry.”

Learning that Bishop Sklba was retiring was a surprise to Rev. Stumme-Diers, until he did the math.

“To me it’s a shock because I’ve always seen him as being a very youthful spirit and having great energy,” he explained. “Then when I thought about it, I realized that he had reached the mandatory retirement age, so I think it’s kind of a surprise that somebody of his age can have such vitality and such engagement in his work and ministry and relationships.

“I just have a very high regard for Bishop Sklba, both personally and professionally. He’s highly intelligent and just a very substantial man of great integrity. I would say he may be more knowledgeable about Lutheranism than many of us Lutherans,” Rev. Stumme-Diers laughingly admitted.

Leaders learned from each other

Bishop Steven Miller got to know Bishop Sklba after the former’s ordination as the 11th Episcopal bishop of Milwaukee in 2003. Through monthly breakfast meetings with judicatory leaders in Southeastern Wisconsin and by participating in the annual religious leaders’ retreat, sponsored jointly by the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee and the Wisconsin Council of Churches, the two leaders learned from one another.
“I think that it’s important that the different parts of Christianity remain in contact with one another, number one because it’s the Lord’s will; he wants us all to be one,” Bishop Miller explained. “Number two, the catholic faith is something we all share – that’s with a small c, not a big c – and particularly Anglicans and Roman Catholics are very close and different in very few things.

“I felt that I would miss him. He’s been a really good friend and he was very gracious when I first became a bishop,” he said, explaining his reaction on hearing that Bishop Sklba planned to retire.

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