I want to start by saying thank you to our signing saints, so let us give them a hand. I also wish to express my deep gratitude to all of you and all the communities you represent, for your gifts of time, presence, talent and treasure to help build beloved community. Let us give a shout out to the saints of Trinity, Greece, for their warm and thoughtful hospitality. Apart from everything else they have even done some work with their liturgical space for banners and altar hangings that are new and made just for this occasion. What a privilege to come to a place with such preparation and anticipation. Thank you also to the Convention Planning Committee, if you are a member of that committee please rise where you are so we can say thank you to you.
Let us give thanks for the ministry of those who have served faithfully and have now retired, resigned or have indicated to me their desire to do so imminently. If you are here, please stand and accept our thanks for your faithful service in your station for however long you served there. THE REV. SARA D’ANGIO WHITE, THE REV. FRED REYNOLDS, THE REV. DAHN GANDELL, THE REV. MICHAEL HOPKINS, THE REV. NANCY STEVENS, THE REV. DAVID SMITH, THE REV. DENNIE BENNETT, MRS. MARIE FESSLER, THE REV. PETER BRYANT, THE REV. ERIC THOMPSON. Thank you.
I also wish to welcome those who have taken new cures or positions since our last convention or will do so imminently. THE REV. KELLY AYER, (rector, Zion, Avon/Director of Zion House), THE REV. BYRON ROY, (ESLC Chaplain), THE REV. KEN PEPIN (rector, Grace, Scottsville, and Vicar St. Andrew’s Caledonia), THE REV. RON YOUNG (associate, Christ Church, Pittsford), THE REV. LYNNE SHARP (Rector, St. James, Hammondsport and Vicar, Good Shepherd, Savona), THE REV. KATEY SCHWIND (associate St. Thomas’, Rochester), THE REV. PAUL FROLICK( being installed next Saturday as rector of St. Georges’ Hilton), THE REV. CHRIS STREETER (rector, Incarnation, Penfield), THE REV. ROB PICKIN (rector, St. Paul’s, Rochester), THE REV. CAROL STEWART (Priest in charge, St. John’s Wellsville), THE REV. CARMEN SEUFERT, Interim Priest in Charge, St. Luke and St. Simon Cyrene) AND THE VERY REV. RICK HAMLIN (who just will start as Dean of Southwest District). I’d like you to stand and receive our thanks.
I also wish to take this opportunity to give thanks for the senior-most layperson among us: DR. NADENE HUNTER, WHO IS A MERE 96 YEARS OLD, HAS BEEN AN ACTIVE MEMBER OF CHURCHES IN THE SOUTHWEST DISTRICT AS A BAPTISED SAINT. Receive our thanks, Doctor.
We’re also privileged to have wise men and women of the cloth, clergy, among us. I wish to acknowledge the senior most male and female clergy among us:
THE REV. BARBARA HUMPHREY WHO CELEBRATED HER 85TH BIRTH ANNIVERSARY AND HER 31ST ANNIVERSARY OF ORDINATION TO THE PRIESTHOOD. Barbara.
THE REV. RICHARD HENSHAW, HE RECENTLY CELEBRATED HIS 93RD BIRTH ANNIVERSARY AND HIS 60TH ANNIVERSARY OF ORDINATION TO THE PRIESTHOOD. Let’s give thanks.
We’re also grateful for the presence and witness of our youth ambassadors among us. Thank you for being present with us. I know they’ll be available during lunch lunch especially, and they want to come and chat with you all while you’re having lunch.
Let me also give a shout out to the Diocesan house staff: Eileen, Kristy, Lisa, Cathy, Kristin, Carolyn, Matt, Julie, and Todd. Would you please stand if you are here. It is truly and honor and a privilege to serve with you. We are a leaner staff and are functioning as a team to support all in the Diocese to live into our mission to help grow our congregations spiritually, and in missional leadership, knowing that the Lord of the harvest will help us grow numerically, as well. We appreciate all your patience with us, especially after Marie’s resignation in September. We are working hard to engage staff and volunteer resources to be a hospitable presence, taking this opportunity also to change a broken telephone system, and address security issues, while also being good stewards of our common resources. You can count on reaching a live person during office hours and a friendly person to greet and welcome you should you come to Diocesan House during office hours. Please accept my sincere apologies for any inconvenience caused or will be inadvertently caused as we live into this transition. Hopefully, we can work it out.
I am thankful for the leadership of our past and current Deans, our treasurer, Bob Van Niel and Assistant Treasurer Bliss Owen, for the leadership of the Rev. Winifred Collin in mentoring our Seminarians on the Hills and accompanying our clergy in new cures. I am grateful for the consistent leadership of our Diocesan secretary, Susan Woodhouse, who is just a beacon of light. I am also grateful for the wise, always calm and witty counsel of Phil Fileri, our steadfast Chancellor. Thank you. Of course, I could not engage this responsibility without your regular prayers and the consistent and loving support of my beloved Roja. Grateful for our children, Ned, who graduated this year from Ithaca College as a sound engineer, and Eklan who is in grade eight at Martha Brown in Fairport.
Recently, Diana Butler Bass, the speaker at the Bible in the World Series offered by St. Paul’s, reminded us of William Mcloughlin’s Revivals, Awakenings and Reform, published in 1978. He posits that we are in the midst of an awakening in North America; much like the previous three awakenings. The first led to a transformation from a European State Church to Evangelical Calvinism from 1730 to 1770. The second led to transformation from Calvinistic revolution to Protestant benevolence in the period between 1800 and 1840. The third was from a Protestant nation to Liberal Imperialism between 1890 and 1930. Awakenings take place regardless of total buy in. There is tension in a hull-shaped curve beginning with a crisis of legitimacy to cultural distortions with no consensus or solutions, to scapegoating institutions and leaders, to a thin middle new vision, to attraction, and eventually to transformation. What came through to me is what I have embraced as two movements of Christian growth essentials, which are applicable to any growth. When I welcome you to my home, I am letting go of my privacy, my sense of space, my usual sense of many things within my control. And there is little room for welcome without letting go of these things. Jesus healed the person who was paralyzed in Mark’s gospel, but not until a few of his friends saw a new vision that motivated them to make room for him in a crowded house by creating room through the roof. The miracle was more than the healed person, but a transformed bunch of people who learned that faith was as much about letting go of a sense of control as it was about making room for the miracle of welcome, and abundant life followed. There is no room for welcome without letting go. No kenosis, no Kairos! What are we willing to let go in order to welcome others?
In this my seventh convention, I see a Diocese that has congregations and individuals who are in different places of discernment – and that discernment could involve crisis, discomfort, embrace of new vision, or transformative movement. I see a Diocese in transition, grieving loss and being born into a new Church. I see some clergy and laity who have expressed disappointment with the vision, mission and leadership style that I bring to the table. I see an emerging missional church taking expression with nearly half our churches moving out, growing community gardens, and “taking it to the street.” This year, I see discernment processes leading to the closure of a beloved retail Good Book store, and St. Philip’s in Belmont. I see half our churches moving in the direction of growing numerically. I see greater engagement in the leadership of clergy and laity in our governance as well as in mission and ministry. I see leaders who are willing to discern, take risks and bring in new leaders. I also see leaders who want a recipe from the bishop or somewhere else. I see our leadership bodies in various stages of development. I see a growing discernment to collaborate with ecumenical partners as evidenced in the work of bridge building with the Presbyterian Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Sisters of St. Joseph, all for the sake of mission. I see rising Lay Leadership taking responsibility as the priesthood of all believers. I also see this overall empowerment process contributing to new collaborations as well as some power struggles. I see realignment of resources resulting in partnership grants for congregational development and mission development. In the midst of these changes and chances of life we look for the resurrection of the dead. In the various stations of our journey, can we work it out?
As one called to be bishop, spiritual leader, or overseer, what else do I see? Overall, I see 46 congregations with the potential to create heaven on earth by, as our Creed reminds us, looking for the resurrection of the dead. The institutional Church is dying or dead, but a transformed, new church is being born. How does it look? I see pregnant possibilities with new life emerging where there is a willingness to embrace spiritual practices of discernment. In Belmont, for example in Allegany County, faithful Episcopalians have discerned that they have reached an end of their liturgical common life of over a hundred and fifty years. The remnant there has decided that it is time to gather at the river, to let go of that aspect of their common life, to discern and find new spiritual homes, and to look for the resurrection. Their search or discernment is not in vain. Resurrection in that part of Allegany County looks like a ministry of healing through the Rural Health Network. The buildings are being maintained for this purpose and so mission continues in this transformed way. It is rather serendipitous that one of the saints, now transcended into God’s nearer embrace, left some resources for the living faithful to maintain the building and the mission of the Church. Here, resurrection looks like mission continuing after worship has ended. Or as some Christians say, “The Worship is over, but the service continues.” I am heartened that members of St. Matthias’, Rochester, St. John’s in Mt. Morris, and St. Andrew’s in Friendship, have discerned similar journeys and have found spiritual and missional homes, and are thriving. In the midst of transitions we are working it out by the grace of God.
I see that collaborative Diocesan leadership is increasingly a work in progress where our willingness to be in touch with one another is going to help us function with less silos and will eventually enable greater ability to prioritize. Since the beginning of 2013, we have started to have Combined Leadership meetings for greater information sharing and processing. Such meetings are still a work in progress and would hopefully help us also to build better relationships with others who are working on other aspects of our common life than us for the good of the Diocese and our world.
I notice that Deacons are the face of God in the world where there is brokenness and pain. In my opinion, Deacons are theological and ecclesiological embodiments of Christ’s deepest desire to be in solidarity with those who are outside the Church. They are called to be bridges between the world and the church, connecting human need by engendering opportunity for the companionship between otherwise estranged persons or communities. Deacons model the servant heart of Jesus and help people who have forgotten their capacity to be beloved children of God. In our Diocese, we have two kinds of Deacons: those who in their orientation are Parochial (which means defined by the congregation) and those who are non-parochial (for whom the Diocese is their jurisdiction). We have both kinds of Deacons. My discernment is that we invite those who are currently living into parochial expressions of their Diaconate to continue serving in that capacity while forming future Deacons who are more intentionally non-parochial. The Deaconate of the future will be more about being nimble in discerning vocation more intentionally than restraining it by one’s location. I see Deacons in the future moving in and out of parishes as needed instead of being permanently located and domesticated by their liturgical roles. The subcommittee on the Diaconate and I are in conversation as we clarify and make progress. Our call to grow spiritually and in missional leadership is crucial for our purpose and relevance as a Church. We are working it out.
“The Church is the only society on earth that exists for the benefit of non-members.” Famous words from Archbishop William in the throes of war in the early forties.
The Church may not be the only society anymore. However, we have a clear mandate in that blessing our non-members is a good reason for our relevant existence. It makes our attention to things like congregational wellness and growth all the more important. Congregational decline in Average Service Attendance is beginning to turn around and is moving in the right direction in half of our congregations. Pledge and plate have remained in a positive place with a recorded growth in average pledge overall despite reduction in pledging units. Growth is more common in congregations engaged in strategic discernment leading to visioning processes that involve answering questions about identity and purpose. The Congregational Development Partnership processes require this, and while the process may seem tedious to some, it is beginning to reveal its efficacy since most, if not all, congregations that have engaged this have started moving in the direction of numerical and other aspects of growth. Related to this discernment process is often the call of new clergy leadership, new collaborations and the willingness to take risks and innovate.
Just as a lagging indicator, 18 of our congregations recorded growth in ASA last year, 8 remained flat, and the rest of the 21 showed some decline in numbers. If we compared this to the numbers from say 1999 to 2009 in our diocese, we notice that these were similar to a degree with that of other mainline dioceses in our geographic region. Today, we could humbly but clearly say that we have almost stopped the rapid decline. The ten year drop in ASA from 1999 to 2009was 30%. Since 2009 we have started a trend of growing or remaining flat in over half (26) of our congregations. This is not a progressively steady trend as much as a systemic trend with some congregations growing more rapidly than others in different years. The important thing to note is that most of our parishes have a growth plan. Our pledge and plate numbers were at 5.38 million in 2009 and 5.41 million in 2013. These are just a few tangible signs of abundant gratitude among us. The recent 125th anniversary Capital Campaign journey of St. Thomas’ Rochester is a huge shot in the arm for the entire diocese. These saints are closing in on their target of raising two million dollars! And they’re nearly there. We can work it out with a mindset of abundance! Not competition.
Let me give you a more descriptive picture of what I notice in congregations that are growing in our Diocese. The priest is a spiritually grounded, innovative, collaborative and catalytic leader who practices a dynamic belief in God for everyday happenings in life. She preaches a relevant Gospel. The laity is stepping up to offer leadership in running the Church—staffing is not often the best solution—using their gifts and talents while inviting others to bring their gifts and sharing them meaningfully. Lay leaders are reaching out and developing partnerships with other Episcopalians, ecumenical/interfaith/NGO alliances for the sake of mission. A growing church is an empowering church that nurtures its laity to serve in their professional capacities while seeing what they do as vocation and how they do it as ministry. It is studying scriptures and engaging intergenerational missional activities as well as building joyful communion. A growing church is able to address conflict in ways that do not decimate the whole body. This is mostly done by leaders who step up to accompany those who are upset for whatever reason and helping them move to places of reconciliation or relocating if issues are too deep. A growing church is a place of warmth, of joy and of hope. A growing church is a hospitable and serving church that lives into Christ-like servant leadership. A growing Church has figured out the difference between welcoming all to serve and participate while discerning and developing leaders who are well differentiated to help lead in healthy ways.
Five years ago if you asked the leadership at St. George’s in Hilton, St. Mark’s and St. John’s, St. Stephen’s in the city and Trinity, Greece, they would have said or alluded to perhaps another 5 to 10 years to survive because decline was real. Today, they have beaten the odds, looked for the resurrection and have a resurrection story to tell. Diocesan Council stood with them amidst criticism of supporting congregations with partnership grants. They did their share of heavy lifting and praying. Today each of them is a laboratory of missional energy embodied in lay and clergy leadership. I only single them out because they were so dire. These are stories – and I’m sure there will be other stories like this in our diocese in the years to come – where the path of resurrection to discover new life and see the risen Christ at work in new and wondrous ways is becoming normal. By the grace of God, we are accompanying each other during rough times and we are working it out.
I lift up my eyes to the Diocese at large and beyond, and what do I see in our world at large? In Persecuted: the global assault on Christians, the authors lay out a significant change in our world’s demographics when they describe the following:
Many people are unaware that three-quarters of the world’s 2.2 billion nominal Christians live outside the developed West, as do perhaps four-fifths of the world’s active Christians. Of the world’s ten largest Christian communities, only two, the United States and Germany are in the developed West. Christianity may well be the developing world’s largest religion. The church is predominantly female and non-white. While China may soon be the country with the largest population, Latin America is the largest Christian region and Africa is on its way to becoming the continent with the largest Christian population. The average Christian on the planet, if there could be such a one, would likely be a Brazilian or Nigerian woman or a Chinese youth.
What does this mean for us in the United States, and in Western New York? Think and pray about this. Add to this the demographic shifts and nature of discourse in our country. According to Dr. Robert Jones, CEO and Founder of Public Religion Research Institute, social science tells us that our country is divided. We now face unprecedented unique challenges. Within a few decades the United Sates will be a majority minority country. Whites will constitute, for the first time, less than half the population. Political polarization is real and it runs through religious denominations. Only 13% of congregations may be characterized as multiethnic. About a fourth of our conversations online are declared uncivil. He concludes that appetite for civility is real though the path to get there is not clear.
In an increasingly polarized and polarizing culture I have noticed that our capacity to make an enemy of the "other" feeds the underlying spirit of dominating/shaming or even obliterating the other. (We just came out of an election.) In my opinion, this rapid movement from disagreement to demonization is impacting civil discourse at large.
1. Do I have to be wrong for you to be right?
2. Can we think and live beyond binary understandings of what is right/holy?
3. Could we stop and re-vision to see life as gift and the “other” as gift?
Jesus reminds us that our unity or oneness is as important as our passionate insights including criticism of other persons and other world views. Responsibility and humility are better companions than scapegoating and domination. Jesus clearly moves the conversation to deep, blessed and holy places of life, of joy and of action or as some call it, Praxis! It is in this that we are connected, the living here and now with those living in eternity. The question is: Can we work it out?
The call of Christ is to be harvesters of a goodly harvest that is waiting to be incorporated. This means training or practicing the spiritual disciplines of building each other up, and restraining from tearing each other down. As part of our journey toward the incarnation of Jesus in the season of Advent, we will pray: “Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us.” As beloved children of God who are also sorely hindered by our sin, each of us individually, and all of us, collectively, have a common responsibility to do our part to build up the whole body. This begins with looking for the face of God in each other and recognizing it when we see it. This takes some rigor and spiritual discipline.
In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell popularized the idea of putting in the time. Spiritual practice requires an investment of time, talent and treasure, and anyone can engage in it.
Malcolm speaks of the Beatles in 1959 when they had a gig with eight-hour sets, seven days a week (or was it eight?) at a strip club in Hamburg Germany. That’s where they honed their craft. The British invasion of 1964 didn’t just happen. Practice!
Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai received the Nobel Peace Prize for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to be educated. Committed practice!
Kailash Satyarthi is 60; Malala Yousafzai is 17.
We are living in a time of a great awakening, my beloved, with a landscape where spiritual practices of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are helpful. No matter what your age or identity, Jesus invites you to engage in spiritual practice. All are welcomed by God to practice opening hearts, opening new doors, and discovering joy in beloved community in the midst of the chaos of the world.
Life is very short, and there's no time
For fussing and fighting, my friends
I have always thought that it's a crime,
So I will ask you once again….
Can we work it out? We can work it out.
Perhaps we can, especially for the sake of the risen Christ! Thank you.