Bishop’s Address at the 234th Annual Convention
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“And the word became flesh and lived among us.” John writes in the prologue of the Gospel that he left us. “The word became flesh and lived among us and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son full of grace and truth.” It’s very exciting! Do you get excited when you hear that bit of scripture? John just lights your fire, just a little bit? It does for me. Even if it’s on Christmas morning when you know you’re driving yourself to church and you’d rather still be at home, but you get to hear the Gospel of John. You know you’re going to hear it. You know you’re going to hear it.
The word ‘word’ used there, I know that you’ve heard it in one or two or ten sermons somewhere along the line, that the English word ‘word’ really is the Greek word ‘logos’. And I read, and I think it’s very helpful, that ‘logos’ was a stoic conception. When John was writing this in the first century, he didn’t make up the word himself — ‘logos’. He was referring to a stoic conception. And, if you think like a stoic would have, it’s how they described the operating system for nature. ‘Logos’ was how the world worked. It was the power of the system that informed the way nature worked. And so when John used this, he was basically saying that we’ve just updated, upgraded, our operating system. The word has become flesh and lived among us, which would have been incredibly radical, an incredibly radical idea for those first century stoics, Our entire convention hinges around the theme of, “Say it aloud, the power of the word.” And it’s meant to hearken to the very power of the word of God, the ‘logos’, the operating system that has been updated by our living God, and also the power of the spoken word. The keynote address we’ll hear tonight by Canon Robertson will talk to us about the healing and transformative power of the spoken word.
In holy Eucharist tomorrow, worshiping with the very words that we use to move us closer, ever so closer to God, and even tomorrow afternoon as we start to wrap things up with a big Invite Welcome Connect presentation, and throughout this convention, it’s the power of the word that unifies so much of what we’re doing. In the midst of our work, I want to stop and offer an address here, not to delay us from the work that’s going on where we describe the word of God, but to offer a little snapshot of what we’ve done in 2018 as the Episcopal Church in Delaware— just a little snapshot, and then offer a proposal. Sound all right? So in 2018, the Episcopal Church in Delaware, now this is collectively, as there’s no way I can speak about all of our parishes and cover all of the good work that’s going on where you are. And if I invited each of you up to talk about the mission that’s going on, the evangelism, the worship, the education, all the things that you’re doing, well we could have a great conference indeed.
But I want to talk a little bit about what we’re doing collectively. In 2018, we began referring to ourselves as the Episcopal Church in Delaware. Do you remember that little change? We didn’t say that diocese is a bad word. You can still use the word diocese. Diocese of Delaware is still acceptable, but it’s just kind of a technical term. It’s as if when you’re sitting at lunch and you want someone to pass you that shaker of sodium chloride instead of saying pass the salt. Diocese is simply like that. It’s a technical term for a church. We’re a church that’s organized as a diocese. I can’t tell you how often, in every visitation, someone has mentioned that to me, how much they like that. I think that’s remarkable. We didn’t make it up. Many other churches across the Episcopal Church have done the very same thing. We’ve upgraded the website. Go on to delaware.church. We’ve done a number of things on an infrastructure standpoint technologically, around this unity of our name. We have begun a reboot of the Commission on Ministry process. For those of you who serve on the commission, you’re well familiar with this great work. Most of you don’t know what’s going on, and you’ll hear just a little bit about it tomorrow. But not only is the commission working on the process for helping discern folks to holy orders, but also a whole new idea for a process for helping everyone, all baptized Christians, discern what God is doing in their lives. So hopefully within a few years the Commission on Ministry will have touched everybody in the diocese, not just people who think they might want to be priests or deacons.
We kicked off Invite Welcome Connect. How many people were at the conference in October? Did you have a good time? Talk about something that I hear about time and again in visitations — it’s gathering. It almost felt to me like a revival and it was by all accounts a tremendous success, and it was just the start. It’s the beginning of our long-term work around evangelism. A way of thinking, of making sure that we keep this evangelism in front of us, and not just that we keep the need in front of us, but that we have tools and ways to do it. For next steps with IWC we’ll form a lead team to help shepherd our work. We will likely hold a one-on-one session. When I asked how many here in the room were at that session in October, less than half raised their hands. That means that over half of us haven’t been yet. We’ll make one-on-one sessions available so that everyone in the diocese has a sense, a way to understand firsthand what Invite Welcome Connect is all about.
In 2018, PACT, the Practical Application across Cultural Transformation, a group that years ago grew out from the pilot congregation, has begun to wind down its ministry and has begun to fold its work into Invite Welcome Connect efforts. PACT’s effort has been to foster Christian growth and action in areas of diversity and multicultural appreciation. And that’s exactly the kind of work that, when we talk about connecting one to another, connection fosters. So I give thanks and I know that that our speaker tonight, Chuck Robertson, is here as a result of PACT and the work that they have done. Chuck, we’re glad that you’re here, sir, and we’re looking forward to your presentation. And we thank PACT. I acknowledge the good work of PACT and acknowledge a transition in their ministry as it folds into Invite Welcome Connect.
Invite Welcome Connect is brilliant in its simplicity, but it’s not easy and it’s not a competition. Tomorrow we’re going to share some exciting first steps that we’ve been doing, that we, as the entire Episcopal Church in Delaware, have been doing since October. And we’ll celebrate some of those, but it’s not a competition to see who’s gotten out farther faster. It’s a mutual joy of sharing in what has been done. And it’ll be great to look at our successes, and this year we’ll talk about first steps, but what I’m really looking forward to is next year when we’ll talk about our big missteps. And we’ll celebrate where we’ve just stubbed our toe on something. What did we learn from it and what are we doing differently now? Wouldn’t that be fun? Because not everything we do is going to be a raging success from the first. If it is, that means we’re not trying anything new, but just rehearsing the old patterns.
Across the diocese, in 2018, I’ve been focusing on unity of people and purpose. During the bishop search, early on, I was surprised to find, yet not surprised to find, that even in a small state we can find ways to be different from one another! Do you know what I mean? I know you do. We can find divisions — north/south, upper/lower, urban/suburban, rural/beach. And part of what I think is so very important is that at every opportunity, like this right now, we see ourselves as a visible sign of the unity that we really are. Think, look around, you don’t get the view that I do seeing this room, but we are one church and it’s so important to keep that in mind. The times we feel that we’re alone or doing this difficult ministry all by ourselves it’s important to remember that there are parishes nearby who want to and who can help. We’re doing things with our governance committees around this idea of unity, how to bring to life, to show, to make visible, that we’re unified. We’re looking at some different ideas. One is to centralize all of our meeting locations so that it’s easier to know where our governance committees are meeting and what they’re doing, better advertising of the times and their agendas, centralizing a database of the work that they’re doing. I don’t know if that feels like unity to you but it absolutely does to me because in a very real way it will remind us that we are all in this together.
We’ve rolled out technology in the last year to help make these remote meetings easier. This might make me boring, but man, if you’re in a meeting, this is important stuff. Have you ever tried to run meetings from a distance when agendas are changing, the minutes are changing, the attachments are changing? We’re rolling out a software to make that easier and looking to have a standard for video conferencing across the diocese so that if you want to have a video meeting, there will be a single platform that we can use. I’m working in my visitations to really try to make unity more visible. In fact, this year I’m going to ask that, when I come, your entire parish show up for one worship service. I want everybody to come. One worship, one forum, one coffee hour or a lunch or a hoedown or whatever it is that we do. Have everybody come. And that’s the request that I have. It’s an excuse. The bishop is asking us to get the whole family together and we’re going to work to make it happen. Now, not all parishes can even fit in their worship space and I’m well aware of that. There are some parishes that are just too big for the worship space. We’ll work it out. We’ll figure something out. But I ask that when this comes along and you see that the bishop is coming, let’s make the day something big. Not because it’s about me. I’m just the excuse. Let’s make it a day to get together, make it a day to celebrate who we are as a parish. Now there’ll be folks that grumble and I understand that. We are human beings — it is our right to grumble. But I would ask that you would help remind people. Blame it on the bishop! That’s what I always encourage you to do — blame it on me. This was his idea! But if you would, say, “But it’s not such a lousy idea. You know, it’s not such a lousy idea. Let’s give it a shot.” Showing up matters. It really does. But we’re not going to do it if we don’t at least try. Unity is a big deal for me, even in a state this small, to do things that reflect that we are one body in Christ.
So what else have we done in 2018? We reorganized our mission support staff. You’re familiar with the staff that works with me in support of the work of the diocese. We call ourselves a mission support staff for example. And Kathleen makes me look smart when she’s able to do it. And when she’s not, it’s not her fault. She’s executive to the bishop. She used to be the registration manager for Memorial House and for Camp Arrowhead. That registration work has now been given to Camp Arrowhead and to Memorial House so that they are doing that locally. Kathleen’s position has not been back filled, and they picked it up very ably. Dina is doing a great job and Walt is doing a great job with these conference registrations. I think they’re glad to have that responsibility. Also on staff I’ve asked Cynde Bimbi to serve as our Director of Communications. That’s her full time job — to increase her focus and all her resources on how we communicate. So if you feel like you’re being spammed by my videos, you are! And you can thank Cynde for that. Cynde is now responsible for getting videos shot and edited, but also translated and transcribed into English. An early request was for those of us who prefer to read and not watch videos, that we can get it in writing. Those kinds of things are what having an intentive director of communications makes happen. And this is core evangelism work. It’s not just for our unity within the diocese, though it is important, but it’s also a great window for people outside to see in.
We’ve done a lot of stuff in 2018. We have indeed. And a wide, wide range of tasks. Just this past week, so it wasn’t really 2018, but Judi Gregory’s position now is Canon for Finance and Administration as a recognition of the work that she has done and the recognition of that particular job. So when you see her, make sure you congratulate Judi. Canon Rowe has retired and I began the search in December and received applications from across this country and internationally as well. You would be interested to know that part of having a great communications team is that we’re able to put together a very attractive website which among other things made this position remarkably interesting to a number of people. And as for the new Canon to the Ordinary — for vitality and renewal — if we’re lucky, that announcement will be made in February. That’s pretty exciting too. A wide range of tasks — a hundred day—to—day projects that I won’t go into, and a thousand more ministries that you are doing yourself. It was a busy year in 2018.
So I have a proposal. When we think about the hundreds of tasks that are to be done at a diocesan level and the thousands of tasks to be done at a parish level, a question often comes up as to how do we determine what to do? How do we decide? How do we know what to do next? If you’ve ever served on a vestry or served on a committee in your church, you’ve wondered about this very same thing. How do we prioritize what’s next? How do we know what we should be focusing on, where we should maybe divert or plant or use our resources? If we’re not careful, then we may end up jumping from hot issue to hot issue without any sense of direction as to where it is we should go.
When I was a new priest, my bishop at the time said, “Well, there’s one way to help you keep in mind all the things that a parish needs to do, if you categorize them in six easy categories.” Six easy categories. He called it SWEEPS. You know SWEEPS, right? Say it with me if you know. Service, worship, evangelism, education, pastoral care, and stewardship. If you do that, that’s all you’ve got to do as a church. It sounds so easy! I like it. Six things, we can do that. Then you look and you see it, the breadth of those six charges to a parish, to the church. Service alone, what do you mean service? Which service? Are we feeding the hungry, are we clothing the naked? Are we helping prisoners? Are we standing up against drug use and the proliferation of opioids? Are we standing against racism? What are we doing? We’ve got to do it all, right? Well that’s just one area. Then there’s worship and all the decisions made around our worship. Or evangelism, one that we have often not spent much attention on. We talk about education. We educate our children, or youth, or adults. We educate in scripture, and in theology, and in ethical living, and in linking all of this to our daily life. Well that’s only four areas that I’ve said. Do you see what I mean? It sounds and looks like it would be impossible. And one writer called priesthood the impossible vocation, for this very reason, that it seems, when you lay it out on paper, that to be a priest is impossible because the job of being a church is just not possible. Now, thankfully I know it is possible because I see priests and deacons in this room who are making it possible, and parishes doing the work of the church.
I told Bishop Johnson sometime later that he also needed to add another category. He needed to add administration to SWEEPS — that would be SWEEPSA. Because you’ve got to be a good administrator, right? “A good administration is good pastoral care,” my liturgy professor said, and he was right. So SWEEPSA, that’s your freebie for the day. But it feels impossible and, yes, we rely on the Holy Spirit and the sense of joy that we get from doing the work that we’re given to do, but I tell you what, it can be overwhelming.
So much of the modern leadership challenge in the church, is not sparking people to action. It is focusing the actions that we need to take. It is focusing that energy on the actions we need to take. Now I’m not saying that we’re not complacent in places, we certainly are. We always need sparks, catalysts, to be charged, to get up out of our pews and into the world. What I’m saying is that in the life of the church right now, most people, we find ourselves in church knowing that the Spirit is calling us to do something, but it’s discerning what that something is. Does this resonate with you?
The challenge is channeling our energies. When you’ve got a thousand ministries to do, how do you choose and prioritize among them? When you’ve got good and faithful ideas, it’s easy to lurch from one to the other. So what I want to propose for us, as the Episcopal Church in Delaware, is a common starting point, a common framework for how we organize the work before us. Again, a common starting point, a framework of a narrative that we can use as a church, or a kind of a common reference point for how we organize our work.
Now Bishop Johnson offered those six areas, which I found overwhelming. I want to offer three. I’m going to, in fact, offer this metaphor. I call it Growing Delaware, and I use the image of a garden. Because Jesus of Nazareth did it a long time ago, and I figure if I’m going to follow somebody’s example I should start right there. Growing Delaware, it’s a framework for vitality and renewal. And I use the image of a garden because time and time again it resonates. So if you think of any garden, imagine, pick the garden of your choice — flower garden, vegetable garden, mushroom garden. Does anyone have a mushroom garden? Yeah, okay! Herb garden. A magic rock garden, maybe. Imagine a garden, any garden, whatever rocks your world. Think of that garden and it’s an image of flourishing, of flowering. Gardens are places of health and blossoming and a place of thriving. That’s what ultimately a garden is about.
Three basic images with Growing Delaware, sowing seeds, tending the garden and sharing the harvest. Pretty easy, right? Sowing seeds, tending the garden, sharing the harvest. You have to sow seeds if you’re going to plant a garden. We’re going to plant a garden here in Delaware — a garden for the Kingdom of God. We’ve got to plant seeds. All new life comes from seeds of some kind. Think about that. All new life comes from something that is alive already, and somehow gives birth to it. New life comes when seeds are sown. Life begets life. And so under sowing seeds, this is the work we, as the church, do around our evangelism, Invite, Welcome, Connect, our hospitality, youth ministry, college ministry, Hispanic ministry — seeding new worship communities. That’s the other work we began in 2018 — work around seeding in worshiping communities. “He put before them another parable,” Matthew writes in Chapter 13. “The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all of the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree.” Even small, tiny seeds can grow into great and powerful things. We typically see that from small beginnings, yes, great things can come. That’s what we typically see in this gospel, but we also see that in order for the seed to grow, someone’s got to sow it. Someone has got to sow it. And we cannot assume, as the Episcopal Church in Delaware, that someone else is going to teach about the love of God, teach the world about the love of God, and that those folks will then find their way to us. We have to plant seeds.
Second is to tend the garden, to water, to turn the soil, to water the seeds, to give nurture and care and attention to the seeds that have been planted. This is our work around pastoral care, worship and our prayer life, our support of our clergy and our families, support of lay leadership and discernment, and the care of our parishes. It’s our ecumenical and interfaith work. All of this caring for the body of Christ, not lavishly, but doing it well and intentionally. We’ve got to turn the soil, even for just a little while. Sometimes we even have to let some patches lie fallow. “Not all ground is the same,” Jesus said in the parable of the sower. You remember as the sower cast out seeds, seeds fell on different ground. Some seeds fell on a path and they were lost, birds ate them up, and other seeds fell where they could get no roots and they died and withered away. And other seeds were scorched in the heat, but some found good soil. The point to remember is that good soil doesn’t just happen if it’s not tended. If it’s not tended.
Finally we share our harvest. The whole point of a garden is to harvest something. It is in our outreach and our mission, in our justice, our stewardship. It’s to take the harvest, what we have grown with our own hands, and to feed ourselves. Yes, and to get some seeds for the next round, but most importantly to share with the world.
“We will be known by the fruits that we bear,” Jesus says, in the seventh chapter of Matthew. These three simple areas make up one basic framework to sow, and to tend, and to share. Rinse and repeat. Sow, tend, share, repeat. Now frankly it’s not meant to replace the SWEEPS model. It’s not meant to replace any other model. All it’s meant to do is to give us a common framework for the way that we talk about and organize our common life. Because it’s very easy, as the church, to focus on tending our own garden and assume that someone else is going to sow the seeds. Am I right? It is very easy to tend our own soil and even, if we’re good, to share our harvest, and I think we really do try to share our harvest, but we should not be surprised if our harvest dwindles because we’re not planting seeds. Are you with me?
That’s fundamentally what this is about. Helping us see in this time, in this era in the life of the church, that growth, growth, growth is a primary driver for what we’re about. Growth. Growth in the health and vitality of our parishes, whether it’s an average Sunday attendance or in giving our participation. To name it, that growing matters and that we should invest our time and our energy in things that grow this body of Christ. And to not be timid about that, to not grow for our own sake, but grow for the Kingdom of God. But also to grow in the depth of our spiritual practice. Grow in the depth of our prayer life. It’s not enough simply to talk about growing in size if, fundamentally, we’re not talking about growing our spirits.
It’s a legitimate concern I’ve often heard expressed that when we talk about growth there’s the worry that we’ll end up counting noses and counting dollars, but we’re not going to look to people’s souls. And we don’t want that to happen. Part of the importance of a framework is you don’t want to put all your eggs into one of those baskets. And one way to overreact would be to shift every one of our resources into sowing seeds and forget to tend our garden or forget to share our harvest. Framework is meant to help us keep this in balance, but to name growth as a priority for the church. People often ask me, “Well, bishop is there a vision? What’s your vision for Delaware?” I’m not a big fan of vision language, but I understand the question. And so, if you would like, then I offer this. My vision is that we in an untimidly, is that a word untimidly? In a non—tenaciously kind of way, in an old way, that we name growth of the Kingdom of God in Delaware as our priority for this age — growth in our size, growth in our impact, growth in our spirits.
And a way to see if we’re on this track is to put a framework in place just to see. Are we putting dollars in place to do this work in the right places? Or, are we committing our time and our resources? So that’s what I offer. That’s my proposal for you my sisters and brothers in Delaware. If we believe, as Saint Paul did, that the church is not just one more institution, but is very much the embodiment, an embodiment, of Jesus Christ on this earth, then there is something very special about what we’re called to do. This is not just another assembly of well-meaning people. This is the coming together of the body of Christ. So look around at your fellow members of the body of Christ and see who is here with you, because I think Saint Paul was right. There’s something special about this church, this thing we call church, a living instrument of God’s mercy and love.
The word became flesh and lived among us and we have seen his glory. We have the seeds of that glory that we can plant and we can spread. Why wouldn’t we? We’re called to go and baptize all nations, teaching them what Christ commanded us. Let us not neglect the very body of Christ, my brothers and sisters. Let us sow those seeds, tend the garden, and share the harvest. Are you with me? Amen. Amen. Well then I’m going to wrap up this presentation with a video, if I may. Thank you.