Tuesday, October 14, 2014

BISHOP'S ADDRESS AT CONVENTION 2014

I am grateful to all of you simply for being here.
You presence says there are Nevadans
            who want to be a diocese, want it enough to drive some miles
                        to make a diocese happen.
Usually, the farther the Convention is from a population center,
            the fewer people we have.
But this year, registration has been significantly up.
So thank you for being here.

Thank you St. Barnabas for hosting us.
This has been one of the most effective convention planning committees
            we’ve had.
Thank you also to our Convention Coordinator, Karen Lantz-Feith,
            and to our office staff, Michelle McCarragher and Wendy O’Brien,
            who have worked tirelessly to make this possible.

Several things happened this year that deserve our attention.
For quite awhile, we have felt as if we had a relationship
            with the Anglican Church of Kenya.
 At past Conventions we had presentations on the good work
            we were doing there.
But those presentations did not actually show our diocese
            or our parishes doing anything for Kenya.

Several  of our members were involved
in four non-profit corporations that work in Kenya.
But as a church we didn’t do much.
We sometimes sent part of the collection from Convention
to prevent malaria.
I sent discretionary fund money for seed during a drought.
But there wasn‘t a lot in the way of real support
            by the Church here for the work of the Church there.

This year was different.
A deacon at St. Christopher’s was doing advocacy work
            for the Electrify Africa Bill;
            and she came across the alternative energy strategy of solar lanterns.
For about $10, we could get a solar lantern
            that would give light to a household for a long time.

So we put out a request to parishes for donations,
            hoping to get a few hundred dollars
            and send 20 or 30 lanterns.
To my amazement, the parishes sent us over $14,000,
            enabling us to equip the Church there
            to make a life changing difference for rural villages
                        of the Ukamba Region of Kenya.
Some people who received these solar lanterns
            now give the money they used to spend on paraffin
            to the Church.
One man who didn't go to Church was so touched 
            by our gift of a solar lantern than he has joined the Anglican Church.

Second story.
A few years ago, we started St. Hugh’s Outreach Center in Silver Springs.
We didn’t start it on a shoestring. We started it on nothing.
It is an air plant, depending on donations from the people of Silver Springs,
            the very people we are ostensibly there to help.
It is an unfunded, small, intimate, but lovely human ministry.

One of the donations St. Hugh’s receives locally is free rent
            in  a ramshackle little building.
But this year, we had to come up with $1,400 in back property taxes
            in order to keep the building.
So I sent out a request to the priests to invite their congregations to help.

Churches and individual clergy all over the diocese
            pitched in to help us keep our building.
Trinity, Reno single handedly raised more than enough
            money to pay the taxes.
The other gifts will go to help poor people get by in Silver Springs.

Third story. Bob Green of St. Martin’s, Pahrump
            serves on our diocesan property team.
He was helping St. Mark’s, Tonopah with getting a new roof,
            bringing the electrical system up to code,
            and addressing a few other safety issues.
In the course of working with St. Mark’s,
            Bob learned that they weren’t receiving enough
            in the collection plate to pay their monthly expenses,
            so the priest, Mother Joan LaLiberte, was not just working for free;
            she was paying church expenses out of her own retirement check.
Bob took this matter up with the vestry of St. Martin’s, Pahrump;
            and our Church in Pahrump pledged $100 per month
            to our Church in Tonopah to support operating expenses there.

Last story.
This has been a bad year for us financially.
Income from parishes, is way below budget,
            which is simply because income in the collection plate
                        is down in several of our larger congregations.
So the Standing Committee proposed a budget
            more in line with this year’s income instead of last year’s hopes.

That’s the bad news.
But here’s what happened next.
I recently got a letter personally signed by each member of the Vestry
            of All Saints, Las Vegas.
It said, “We can pay more than you have predicted.”
We can pay $5,000 more next year, so you need to revise the budget.
That still leaves us with a deficit to make up.
Although the $5,000 additional income is good news,
the best news is the generous spirit behind letter.

We have an unusually high assessment on our parishes,
            but we still have an unusually low income.
With rare exception, that’s because the parish income is low.
Of course I wonder what that’s about.
Sometimes we trace our problems to Nevada culture.
There is a little truth in that.
As compared to our neighboring states, we are pretty tight with our money.
Utah is the most generous state in the nation and Idaho is right up there.
But nationally Nevada actually ranks 41st in charitable giving,
            which is better than I expected.

Our problem may have more to do with our history.
We were a missionary diocese for a long time.
That means we lived off money sent to us from the Church
            in the East until the 1970s.
Even after that we got significant grant subsidies for a while.
It was generous of our East Coast brothers and sisters.

But the downside is we got the notion that it is better to receive
            than to give.
We got a bit dependent, doing more grant writing
than evangelism and stewardship.
Living off the national dole won’t get us by today
and that may be a good thing.

Two stories from abroad.
At Lambeth conference I met Bishop Wannadag
of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines.
I asked if they had a companion diocese.
He said, “We don’t want one. We are ruggedly independent.”
I said, “Then we are the companion for you
              because we have nothing to give.”
That’s how we became partners with the Diocese of Santiago.

The Episcopal Church formed the Philippines
into a missionary district in 1901;
but the Episcopal Church of the Philippines claimed independence in 1990.
They turned down the American money and raised their own.
In the Philippines today, churches sell food from their gardens,
            they keep bees, they manufacture herbal medicines.
Everyone who comes to church brings something to give
– money, food, clothing, whatever they have.
Independence isn’t a matter of nationalistic pride.
It’s that they want their people to experience the full joy
            of Christian faith.

Their members are far more joyful, far more committed,
            and far more passionate about faith than we are.
That happens when we trust God, let go of possessions,
            and give our time, talent, and treasure to God’s mission.

Second story.
Recently, the President of Taiwan spoke to our House of Bishops.
He thanked America for 20 years of foreign aid
            that helped them become an industrialized nation.
But in 1965 that aid stopped,
            and Taiwan set a goal to stop being an importer of compassion  
            in order to become an exporter of compassion.
Taiwan now supports needy children in developing nations
            and provides the very best disaster relief services.
They have come to the rescue in the Japan, in Haiti, and around the world.
The Taiwanese have learned the joy of giving.

Sometimes the clergy shortchange our people,
            by not teaching financial faith, gratitude, and generosity.
These are really two challenges with one solution:
            First, we need to fund the mission of spreading the gospel
                        in a place that needs grace worse than it needs water.
            Second, we need to show our people the freedom and joy
                        that come from living by faith rather than fear,
                        from gratitude rather than resentment,
to put a point on it: from giving to God’s mission.

The hard thing about church in Nevada is the high percentage
            of assessment on parish income,
            which still produces a shoestring austerity budget for the diocese.
If this is a zero sum game, we are stuck in that forever.
We need to reduce the percentage of the assessment.
There are theoretically two ways that can happen.

Restructuring of the Episcopal Church could reduce the amount
            of money the diocese has to pay New York
            and we could then pass that savings on to parishes.
 But it looks more likely that restructuring is going to hit an iceberg
            over typical churchy power struggles.
So I don’t think we can count on the East Coast to help.

The other is that we could grow stewardship in the parishes.
If total parish income goes up, we can take the assessment
            further down,  which will help parishes even more.
Could that happen in spite of our history of dependency
            on mission support from other dioceses?
Could we learn to support ourselves
            like our companion diocese in the Philippines does?
           
In 2013, Nevada had the largest representation of any diocese
            at The Episcopal Network for Stewardship conference in Salt Lake.
This year, we sent 9 people the 2014 Conference in Atlanta,
and many more participated by live streaming
            at All Saints, Las Vegas, St. Paul’s, Sparks, and St. Peter’s, Carson City.
In 2014, we had good participation at Stewardship workshops
            in Sparks and Las Vegas.
We will repeat that workshop in Las Vegas next year,
sharing costs with the Methodists.
 We are learning about stewardship here in Ely today.
Next year 5 of us will attend the Project Resource Conference in Denver
            to learn how to improve giving in our diocese.
All of this points to a deep culture shift in our diocese.
Nevada is growing up into mature faith.

Stewardship is part and parcel of the larger project
            of education that forms people as disciples of Jesus.
In order for congregations to fulfill their mission,
            attract and retain people, and demonstrate that they
            are doing something worthy of the people’s support,
            they have to offer formation programs.
Churches with Christian education and formation programs
            are consistently better attended, better funded,
            and get along with each other better than those who do not.

This year, several of our congregations have either begun
             new formation programs or expanded existing ones.
St. Michael & All Angels is now offering instruction
            in basic Christian teachings using the Animate series.

Grace in the Desert has several groups learning basic discipleship
            through the Pro-Claim series,
            which was also used this year at Holy Spirit, Bullhead City.
Trinity, Reno teaches the Ignatian Exercises and has a book group,
currently studying Richard Rohr’s Great Themes of the Bible series.
St. Paul’s, Sparks also has a book group as well as a lectio divina Bible Study.
Christ Church, Las Vegas has just started a new EfM group.

Other parishes have programs as well.
These are just a few examples of congregations engaging
the mission of forming disciples of Jesus in new ways.
For the first time in several years, a Nevadan will attend
the Western Christian Educators Conference at Zephyr Cove.

There are two connections between Christian Formation
            and our survival.
The first is that if we do not engage in formation, we will not survive.
The seconds is that if we do not engage in formation, we should not survive.
We are here to learn as individuals, as communities, and as a diocese
            (which is a community of communities).

We are here to learn how to become followers of Jesus.
If we do that, we’ll be just fine.
Unless we do that, we are wasting our time.

But it is not enough to tell congregations to offer formation programs.
We have to offer guidance and inspiration.
So we are priming that pump.
We shifted money from several things we’d been saving for,
            we allocated our rental income from the old St. Stephen’s,
            and we used a gift from one of our members
            to hire a Canon For Congregational Vitality.
Canon Catherine is coming to help us figure out what kind of formation
            will be most effective in each of our different communities.


Last weekend, we commemorated St. Francis,
            but I wonder if we remembered what his life was really about.
Francis came back from war -- broken and needing healing.
So he went looking for God in the ruins of a little church, San Damiano.
God healed him by giving him a mission.
God said, “Francis, rebuild my church.”
So Francis gave up all his worldly possessions
 – not some, not most, but all of his worldly possessions --
and devoted himself to a capital fund drive.

The first thing Francis did was rebuild a down-on-the heels little church.
The second thing was to form a community of fellow believers.
The third was to hit the road sharing the good news of Jesus
            with people who called themselves Christians
            but who hadn’t really gotten it.
I wonder, as the Diocese of Nevada lives into the coming year,   

            what we might learn from the example of Blessed Francis.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

LIVE FROM TAIPEI: PART 7

Well, it’s all over but the shouting – that is if we shout at the reception and closing dinner tonight.

The business of the Fall 2014 meeting of the House of Bishops is concluded. We had our Town Hall Meeting this morning, which is an open mike format. The high points were thank you’s for prayers and support given during times of personal and family hardship since our last meeting. We actually do that for each other and it helps.

In the business session we took up various questions including a resolution to support the Anglican Church in Hong Kong where the political situation is complex and shifting. We also took up the question about how best to work for peace in the war torn Middle East and offer support to persecuted religious minorities especially Christians. Instead of formal action on our part, we agreed to pass on messages to the Archbishop of Canterbury through Bishop Katharine who is talking with him next week.  Various other matters of business were addressed, but nothing newsworthy.

This afternoon I attended a discussion with members of the task force on marriage. It was an opportunity to offer input from our different diocesan contexts on both the liturgy and theology of marriage.

At this point, I am tired! But I have 90 minutes of downtime before the reception. I plan to use it to continue e mailing transition officers as a way to beat the bushes for candidates for priest openings in Nevada.


Tomorrow, bright and early, I take a shuttle to the airport and fly away home.

Monday, September 22, 2014

LIVE FROM TAIPEI: PART 6

Can systems change?

I am self-conscious that I go on so much about what a wonderful group of colleagues I have in the other bishops, how kind and supportive they are, what a sane, gentle, and caring group I encounter each time we meet.

But it was not always so. Back in the bad old days I kept my distance from bishops, even when they were solo. As for when they gathered in a pack, I’d have sooner hung out with a pack of wild dingos. So I don’t know much first hand about those days. But I am told that it was bad.

There were times when one faction of the bishops refused to stay at Camp Allen with the others. That faction held their own separate worship services rather than receive communion with the rest. Bishops would stand on opposite sides of the room shouting insults at each other. This did not happen during the main era of seceding congregations and dioceses. The era of bishop rancor was what led up to it the fracturing of the Church. For better or worse, bishops do lead. That dysfunctional group of bishops led us into chaos. Of course, there had to be good bishops in those days. I am sure there were excellent bishops among them. I knew some of them and admired them. But the group as a whole was, as I am told, not playing well together.

I remember when one of the leading left wing bishops and his arch enemy, one of the right wing bishops, retired within a short while of each other. Rather than stop fighting, they went on the road together continuing to duke it out for the entertainment of churches around the country. I am not sure but I think this may have coincided with the popularity of The Jerry Springer Show.

Today, things are different from that as the night from the day. But how did the change happen? Yes, of course, some of the hotheads retired and went away. But that doesn’t always change things. Usually when one troublemaker leaves, another arises to take his place. So the departure of the difficult bishops may have created the opportunity for change, but it did not guarantee it.

I am told that Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, with his contemplative spirituality and devotion to the discipline of conversation, undertook a specific program to change the way the bishops behaved. We went from sitting in straight lines with seats assigned according to seniority to sitting around tables with the same small group assembled for three years at a stretch. We began to meet more often. The College For Bishops worked on building relationships among the new bishops coming in, and connected the new folks to veterans as we were assigned first a 90-day-companion and then a bishop coach for our first three years. I don’t know what all the changes were or when they were made. But I am reliably informed that there was an intentional plan to change the way the bishops related to one another. We now have a network of personal relationships that bridges differences of theology and politics. We work well together and my life is the better for knowing these good people.

As the tenor of the House of Bishops has changed, it seems to me that a different kind of people are seeking the office. A different kind of people are being elected. How that happens is a mystery. But I observe it to be true. We are more measured, balanced, temperate in speech and action than many of the bishops in decades past – not all of them certainly, but many of them, the ones who grabbed the headlines.

The point here isn’t to praise the current team. It’s to say that a bad system became a good one through intentional action. With Bishop Griswold’s leadership, continued by Bishop Katharine, we decided to change.

Could a congregation do the same? I have seen it happen there too. I have seen a congregation that has been swimming in its own rancorous bile for years decide to get healthy. It takes some action steps, some intentional work. It doesn’t change all at once. It takes time, patience, and determination, but it can be done.

There is no one right way to go about it. I think Gilbert Rendle’s Behavioral Covenants In Congregations is a great guide for starters.  I believe the practices and principles of broad based community organizing can change how people treat each other in a congregation. Others agree. http://www.ucc.org/news/community-organizing-to-help.html In fact, there is a short and easy book on how to do it, Michael Gecan’s Effective Organizing For Congregational Renewal. http://www.amazon.com/Effective-Organizing-Congregational-Renewal-Michael/dp/0879463848/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1411386465&sr=1-1&keywords=Organizing+for+congregational 

I am intrigued that our new Archbishop of Canterbury is going around the world having a one-on-one meetings (the basic building block of community organizing) with each of the Primates of the Anglican Communion before he calls another Primate’s Meeting. It looks to me as if Archbishop Justin has got it. I confess I sometimes slam my head against the wall in frustration over how hard it is to get our people in Nevada to sit down together one-on-one and just talk. We want to make speeches and send out e-blasts, anything but relate eyeball to eyeball.

Our best turnaround in a parish has been led by a priest trained in Christian conflict transformation at the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center. http://www.lmpeacecenter.org There are other models that invite relationship building – the Indaba Process, World CafĂ©, Appreciative Inquiry, etc. I don’t know that any one model has all the answers. But what I do know is this: a group can change how it functions. Old habits can be broken. New habits can be formed. The bishops have done it.

As I look at some of our congregations that have been stuck in bad habits, relational vices that may even have seeped down into them from the bad influence of the bishops in decades past, I wonder which of those congregations might decide to give up their familiar rancor and misery to try something new, something like becoming the Church the New Testament calls us to be, the kind of community worthy to be called the Body of Christ, a community that looks like Jesus, heals people instead of wounding them, and ushers in the Kingdom of God.