By Lola Michael Russell, staff writer
Although it was wintry cold outside, it felt like summer inside the Princess Royale Hotel’s beautiful atrium overlooking the ocean on January 26 and 27, when 280 people participated in the diocesan annual convention in Ocean City, Maryland. The sun shone, and with the theme, Behold I make all things new, a spirit of hope and happiness flourished among those who gathered there.
As guests registered and friends old and new greeted each other, volunteers from our host, St. Luke’s Church, Seaford, wearing scarlet T-shirts emblazoned with To Know Christ and Make Him Known, warmly welcomed everyone. They offered red gift bags containing a seasonally useful hand sanitizer, pack of tissues, bottle of water, crocheted prayer patch, and pack of life savers. They also provided a bounteous hospitality suite throughout the two days, including a dangerously large selection of delicious home-made cookies.
Everyone’s registration package included a sheet of colored film and a bookmark with the quotation, “I call on you, O God, for you will answer me: give ear to me and hear my prayer” (Ps. 17:6). The bookmark also invited people to bring the colored film to the Visual Oratory exhibit table to add their prayers to a collective prayer sculpture. Throughout convention, people wrote their prayers on the film, and Ms. Caroline Brown strung these brightly colored invocations together like stained glass.
The convention got underway on Friday afternoon with forums on finance, resolutions, and the Camp Arrowhead Capital Campaign. These topics were discussed fully before official presentations were made, amendments submitted, and votes were cast in the subsequent business sessions. A Meet the Nominees Social followed, with food and beverages offered. Indeed, throughout the entire convention food seemed to play a satisfyingly large role in the proceedings.
New to convention this year was a Prayer Room, offered by Anamchara Fellowship and Daughters of the King. All were welcome to come and go any time during the convention. Sister BJ Brown commented that, “The prayer room at convention is long overdue, and this first one was so well done in the space provided. The minute you walked in, there was some thing or place that drew your attention toward the Holy. I am looking forward to more experiences like this at our future conventions.”
The first business session opened with an event that everyone knew was very exciting for the Rev. Paul W. Gennett, Jr. — he officially presented the gavel to the Rt. Rev. Kevin S. Brown to serve as chair of the convention, who called the convention to order. Paul’s face was beaming, and we could feel the energy in the room.
In his purple cassock, the bishop extended a personal welcome to all attendees and then introduced the Rev. Marianne Ell, pastor, and the St. Luke’s convention committee, chaired by Mr. Rich Boyd. They shared their experiences of becoming a lay-administered church in the last few years and how they were happy to be hosting the convention. Of the convention Rich said, “We were delighted to be able to serve the diocese in that role — and we had a lot of fun!” After the business session was finished, Marianne and Ms. Kay Truitt, of St. Luke’s returned to the podium to lead an early evening prayer.
A social hour followed in the hotel’s wonderfully warm atrium, and it was delightful to relax with delicious appetizers by the pool, knowing it was so cold outside. After a very fine dinner, the bishop introduced Paul who thanked the Rt. Rev. James Shand for his support during the transition period. He also recognized Bishop Shand’s wife, Lynne, who had been encouragingly generous in offering the bishop’s time!
The Late Show with Bishop Brown provided wonderful after-dinner entertainment. The bishop set the tone with schtick worthy of classic Johnny Carson. The Rev. Jim Bimbi kept the humor going with a composition of his own that included the heartfelt lines:
It’s the Late Show, with Bishop Kevin Brown
It’s the Late Show, the only gig in town.
It’s the Late Show, he’s brought to Delaware.
His smile’s a delight, and have you seen his hair?
Between the various subsequent performances, the bishop roamed the Atrium and dipped into his joke box, bringing many groans from the audience. I gave a wideranging monologue that included a few comments on the wisdom of the bishop and the value of reading the Delaware Communion. I touched briefly upon Christmas, but mostly I spoke about my recent colonoscopy experience, which was received with uncharitable hilarity. David Smith moved the audience with a poignant keyboard adaptation of Amazing Grace. John Michael Sophos, Christine MillerMarcin, and Ava Caruso garnered laughs with their version of Side by Side – at St. Peter’s Church, Lewes. In an epic joke contest, the Rev. Chuck Weiss sparred with the Rev. Jeff Ross, eliciting both laughs and groans accordingly. The evening came to a happy close with everyone joining in on the chorus of Sweet Caroline, sung by the bishop as he brought his wife, Caroline, to the stage.
Saturday dawned sunny, and guests enjoyed breakfast in the Schooner restaurant overlooking the ocean before Morning Prayer, led by parishioners of St. Luke’s.
Then we heard about the Camp Arrowhead Capital Campaign, and Kids4Peace, a global youth-led interfaith movement founded in Jerusalem in 2002 that educates youth on different religions, prepares future leaders, and spreads the message that, “Together, Peace is Possible.” Following a ‘Jesus Movement’ video by the Most Rev. Michael Curry, the bishop led discussions about “The Jesus Movement” in our diocese.
A service of Holy Eucharist commemorating Lydia, Dorcas, and Phoebe followed in the hotel ballroom, and the beautiful, collaboratively created Visual Oratory hung behind the Altar in a bright array of colorful prayers. (This sculpture will now be displayed at the Church of Sts. Andrew and Matthew as an ongoing work of art.) In his sermon, the bishop spoke of how easy it is to overlook what we do not value. He commented that it is one hundred years since women got the vote. He pointed out that the suffragist movement started with women’s groups in churches and reminded us that all are created equal in the eyes of God. He remembered the women who may be referred to only fleetingly in the Bible, not only Lydia, Dorcas, and Phoebe, but Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, “and many others who provided for them out of their resources” and travelled too. He asked us to consider the people in our own day who are being forgotten, overlooked, bypassed, devalued, ignored, suppressed, and rejected.
After lunch in the gloriously sunny atrium again, we began the final business session with a prayer of commemoration. In giving his address, the bishop spoke of his work week. He will be taking Mondays as his Sabbath and asked us to make sure that our clergy are taking their Sabbath, because it matters. He will also spend Wednesdays visiting throughout the diocese. He drew quite a few laughs as he shared some of the names he is considering for these days: Downstate Days; Diagonal Days (because a bishop always moves diagonally); or, the less catchy, Bishop, Coming to a City Near You!
He mentioned some of the questions he’s been asked as a new bishop:
- How are you settling in? Well.
- How is the transition for you and your family? Good.
- What do you and the kids think of Delaware? They like it, and we do too.
- How do you like Bishopstead? There’s no doubt it is a great gift to live there. It’s a big, quirky old house with a beautiful garden and pond.
- Does the hat hurt? No, but it can feel heavy. Did I look pained? If so, please let me know!
- How about the Eagles? Do you like the Eagles? Will you pray for the Eagles? He’s on the bandwagon and pointed out that he wore green at the Holy Eucharist!
The bishop set the record straight regarding an article about his ordination in which he was quoted as saying he was not elected to be an agent of change. On the contrary, he said, he would not be doing his job if he was not an agent of change. Indeed, we all are agents of change. He picked the word “catalyst” to be his theme for the year. With that in mind, Behold, I make all things new refers not just to things, projects, and programs around us, not only the church itself, but to us – ourselves – made new physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Looking forward for 2018 – 2020, the bishop sees three areas of focus that are not just interesting to him but also the focus of his energy and expertise:
- Mission: a desire to serve communities. A “Missional Church” can sound like a buzzword, but the advantage of this is it keeps us looking outside ourselves toward neighbors to serve and toward God who will provide. Keep an eye on Jesus, on God, and on neighbor.
- Openness and invitation, with a focus on Hispanic ministries in all three counties, and youth and young adults. Are we congregations of welcome for all?
- Congregational vitality and growth are essential and must be sustainable, in the right way and for the right reasons.
Knowing that following Jesus is a risky business, he encouraged us to keep trying, despite fear. Knowing that clergy are human, he suggested openness goes a long way. And he recommended that people laugh — a lot. The bishop asked for our patience as he learns his new role and responsibilities. He expects
to stumble a time or two but wants to stumble forward. In fact, if there is no stumbling, no mistakes along the way, it means we are not taking risks and are playing it safe. So let’s agree that as we stumble forward together, we’ll agitate lovingly for Jesus, and we’ll pick each other up when we fall. The bishop closed in joy and thanksgiving for our time together.
In closing, The Rev. Max Wolf, announced that All Saints Church and St. George’s Chapel are pleased to host the 234th Convention on Friday, January 25, and Saturday, January 26, 2019, which will be held at the Princess Royale in Ocean City. Many attendees expressed their pleasure to hear that we would be returning to this wonderful venue!
Throughout the entire convention, a spirit of joy, optimism, and excitement prevailed, with the fundamental feeling that with God, all things will be made new.