Friday, October 13, 2017

THE BISHOP'S ADDRESS I DID NOT GIVE


Instead of my giving a State of the Church address at Convention this year, we used that time for  table conversation. It was time well spent. But I promised to publish the text of what I would have said. This is it.

Friends, thank you for being here
         to form relationships that are the nerve system
                  of the Church,
         to learn how to invite the Sprit into your congregational life,
         and to do the official business of the Diocese.
I am grateful for your service and your good hearts.

I doubt I will give a Bishop’s address next year
         since you will be busy electing my successor.
So, this is my last chance
to really address the Diocese.

I am grateful for the time I have been privileged
         to serve you,
         grateful for friendships, for support, and for guidance.
I am grateful for the opportunity to travel
         around our diocese.
The one qualification I brought to this position
         was a readiness to appreciate the whole diocese
     not just part of it.
I hope my enjoyment of all of you
has helped you enjoy each other.

Being a Nevadan has been a pure blessing.
Being a bishop has been more mixed.
I never saw myself in this role.
I didn’t quit my job and move my family to New York,
         spend every dime I had, and cut my income by 50%
         because I wanted a career in church administration.
I wanted to teach the gospel, pray with people,
         offer spiritual guidance, and welcome newcomers
         into the family of faith.
Bishops don’t do much of that.
I have missed parish life.

I did not come to Nevada
         because I wanted to wear a purple shirt
and a pointy hat.
I came to Nevada because I wanted to live in Nevada
         and I thought I could be of some service.
I don’t know how much I’ve been able to do,
         but I have done what I could.
Some good things have happened.
It will be for you to measure.

I have several hopes and a couple of fears for your future.
I’ll name the fears first.
We used to waste a lot of time and energy
         on conflicts and divisions.
We don’t have the theological and social left vs right
         splits that some places do.
Instead we used to divide up regionally,
         large church vs small church, urban vs rural.
Or we would divide up parish vs diocese.

The social psychologist Wilfrid Bion
         said all groups have a mission,
         a reason to exist.
They also have a shadow mission
         which is to defeat the official mission
         through various stratagems and diversionary tactics.
Those endless wranglings were our way
         to avoid our true mission.

In the past decade, our diocese has healed
many old wounds.
People have formed Christian bonds
         across the old divides.
Choosing Standing Committee members in Mission Districts
         to assure geographical diversity has been part of that.
Keeping the administrative office in the South
         but designating a Cathedral in the North is part of that.
The Standing Committee has been bending over backward
         to avoid renewing old conflicts.
We – not I – we have all worked to knit the church back together.

But recently I have seen some resurgence
of old animosities.
They aren’t full force.
But the old stuff is stirring a bit.
Nevada is at the point of deciding
whether to venture forward into new mission
or regress into the old ways.

Second, I am concerned that you may blame
         the next bishop for hard decisions
         that just can’t be avoided.
Some ministries including Latino ministries
         are due for cuts.
Hard decisions will have to be made
         over properties that are unused or underused.
Nevadans blamed Bishop Katharine
         for funding cuts that Bishop Zabriske
         had already said privately would be unavoidable.
Let me say publicly, hard decisions lie ahead
         for your next Bishop.
If I were still here those hard choices
would still be necessary.

That said, there is also room for hope.
Institutionally and financially,
         we are on track to be considerably stronger
         in 3 to 5 years than at any time since I’ve been here.
Nothing is guaranteed,
But the sacrifices of recent years and today
         have planted the seeds for future growth.

Institutional success, however,
is neither sustainable nor meaningful
unless there is missional success.
Unless we are doing something important
 it doesn’t really matter.
I have every hope that we will be doing
dramatically more important work in the future
than we have done on my watch in three ways.

First, I am hopeful for Christian formation.
Without Christian formation, a congregation may be
         a mutual support society.
But it is not a Church.
St. Paul told us to study because all that had been written
         was “for our instruction . . .  encouragement and hope.”
Peter said we “long like newborn babes for the milk of the word.”
2nd Timothy says we must study to be equipped
“for every good work.”
We can’t do God’s work
         unless we are equipped by study.

Christian formation is still a relatively weak point for us.
But it is remarkably stronger than it was 10 years ago
-- not my doing.
You will not find my fingerprints on any of it.
But Christian formation has sprung up all over.
It is gaining momentum because more and more
         people want to know the Christian faith.
It’s a wild and wonderful gospel we have to share,
         much more interesting and true
         than the simplistic Pablum most people
         take to be Christianity.

Second, I hope Nevada will become a model of evangelism
sharing authentic compassionate faith
with people who need it desperately.
I am not worried about institutional survival.
The Church in Nevada is resilient as a sagebrush.
Evangelism isn’t for that.
It’s for the unchurched people languishing
 in our spiritual desert of loneliness and despair.
We have lots and lots of people out there
         who need Jesus desperately.
If we don’t connect them with Jesus,
         it won’t happen.

I care deeply about this but I regret that I am not very good at it.
Other bishops are much better at evangelism strategies
         than I am.
Some of our congregations are doing well anyway.
In the past decade only one Episcopal Diocese
         in the United States grew in attendance.
That was Nevada.
Our attendance grew by 18.4%.
In some places, that’s thanks to Latino ministries.
But we have English-speaking congregations growing too.

If I had been better at this, we would have done better.
I apologize for my weakness at this.
But still, we have momentum.
If just a few more of our parishes undertook evangelism,
         we’d be a beacon for the whole Episcopal Church.

I hope that will happen in coming years.
My hope grows out of Christian formation.
If we know what we have to offer the world,
         we are more likely to offer it.
 Christian formation is the catalyst
for the hard but perfectly simple shift
         that makes evangelism possible.

Here’s our barrier to evangelism.
Most of our churches readily say,
         “We need more people here.”
Some will specify the demographic kind of people
         they need.
It quickly becomes clear they “need more people”
         to pay the bills and do the work.

Our visitors get that right off.
I have heard it from one end of the diocese to the other.
Our visitors see that we want to use them for our own ends.
We don’t offer them anything.
We want them to take care of us.
Naturally they run away lickety split.

Until we become Spirit-filled churches,
         until we know the love of Jesus,
         until we float in the grace of God,
         we have nothing to offer people.
When our congregations embrace real faith,   
         evangelism will not just be possible,
         it will be inevitable --
inevitable because loving God
         and loving our neighbor are inseparable.
You can’t do one without the other.

You know this: our neighbors are hurting.
Our neighbors need Jesus in the worst way.
I won’t cite all the statistics
on alienation and despair again.
You’ve heard it from me often enough.
You know this.
Our neighbors need the gospel desperately.
If we truly have it, we cannot help but share it.

Third, I hope we might embrace a spirituality
of gratitude, generosity and trust in God’s grace.
That happens when we teach stewardship seriously.
Just a handful of our congregations
have taken up real stewardship practices
in the past few years.
I can see the difference in them.
It isn’t just that they have more money for mission.
They are happier, livelier, and growing.
It’s just a few parishes – but that could be a start.
If our congregations remain in relationship with each other,
stewardship might spread like a gracious virus.

The reason I hope you do this in coming years is not just
that it would allow the Diocese to reduce your asking
     though it would do that.
It is not just that it would fund the mission
so, our churches could be strong
and do more good in their communities,
         though that is also true.

The reason it matters is a spiritual thing.
Nevada ranks in the middle third of the nation
for per capita income.
But we are dead last in per capita charitable giving.
We live a fear-based, scarcity-caged life.
I love this state but it can be tight fisted and small hearted.
Teaching stewardship sets our people free
to trust God and enjoy his grace.
Without teaching stewardship
we are shortchanging our people on the gospel.

Whether these things – or anything worth doing --
actually comes to pass
will depend on two things:
First, the relationship among the parishes.
Just as disease can spread in the physical body,
health spreads in the spiritual body.
If one congregation is doing something spirit-filled
and gracious, it will spread to other congregations,
if those congregations are in relationship with each other.

Second, it takes self-awareness.
This is a Christian point.
But a Hindu legend makes it clear.
The story goes that humans were originally
         lower level gods,
         but we didn’t do a very good job of it.
So, the higher gods took away our divinity.

That left them with the problem of where to hide it.
So, the gods and their leader Brahma
         met to discuss the problem.
One proposed that they hide our divinity
         on top of a high mountain.
But Brahma said people would climb
         the highest mountain to reclaim their true nature.

Another suggested they bury our divinity
         deep in the earth.
But Brahma said people would dig
         as deep in the earth as necessary
                  to mine this spiritual treasure.
Another suggested they sink our divinity
         in the depths of the ocean.
But Brahma said people would trawl
         the deepest ocean to retrieve their destiny.

The council of gods threw up their hands and asked,
         Where then can we hide human divinity?
Brahma answered,
I know where we can hide
         humanity’s divine nature.
We will put it inside them.
They will never look there. 

Jesus said, The Kingdom of Heaven is within you.
Moses said, The word of God is very near you.
         It is in your mouth and in your heart.
The first adage of Classical Greece, was know thyself.
It was inscribed on the Temple of Delphi
         and Socrates said it over and over.

The Ancient Greeks learned it from the more Ancient Egyptians
         who’d been saying it for centuries.
All wisdom begins in self-knowledge.

What is true of individuals is also true of congregations.
Congregations cannot function without clarity
         about their identity, their core values, and their calling.
They have to know themselves and know their communities.

Without that self-awareness,
         they cannot know what they have to offer the world
         in evangelism.
Without that self-awareness,
         they cannot see a mission worthy
of funding through stewardship.

There are a variety of practices that can initiate
         and maintain self-awareness in a congregation.
One is community organizing house meetings.
Our congregations in Nevadans for the Common Good
         are doing a house meetings campaign
         starting this very month.
I don’t know what will come out of those meetings.
But that’s the point.
Whatever comes out of them will be something we don’t know yet.
It’s an exercise in self-discovery.

Canon Catherine has been facilitating
visioning and mission discernment processes
         for several of our congregations.
All Saints, St. Christopher’s, St. Matthew’s, St. Patrick’s,
         St. John’s, and St. Timothy’s have all gained new insight.
She can help you too.
That’s why she’s here.

Congregations have been doing SWEEP analysis for years.
There are different models and there are many people
         trained to facilitate those processes.
There are multiple opportunities from vestry retreats
         to congregational Advent or Lenten programs.

For Nevada, there is good news and bad news
         about self-awareness.
The bad news is that many of our congregations
         are unusually resistant to looking inward.
There appear to be conversations we don’t intend
         to get anywhere close to having.
As a result, while the self-awareness of most churches
         Is kind of fuzzy, ours is a bit fuzzier than most.
That’s why we have such a hard time
         with evangelism, stewardship, and new mission projects.
We don’t know what we have to offer
because we don’t know who we are
beneath superficial church chit chat.
We don’t know what we care about enough to pay for it.

But here’s the good news.
Resistance is a sign there’s a treasure buried in there.
Psychologists recognize resistance when it manifests
as shutting down, lashing out, denial, anger,
         distraction, or confusion.
We see that in congregations all the time.
When psychologists see resistance, they know the clients
         are up against the insight that will make them whole.
That’s the treasure that makes the metal detector start clicking
         as resistance.
The fact that we have so much resistance
         tells me we are sitting on top of some real spiritual treasure.
Paul said, we have this treasure in earthen vessels.
Our resistance shows there’s a treasure in there,
         just waiting for us to discover.

The key to mining that treasure
         is opening our hearts to one another
         to create a space where people dare
                  to open their hearts back.
We cannot brow beat congregations into self-awareness
         any more than we can browbeat individuals
                  into self-awareness.

The programs I have named already,
         if you do them right,
         are safe place programs, not browbeating programs.
But many of our congregations do not yet
         trust each other enough.
There’s probably reason for that.
People have gotten hurt in the past
         so, they’ve grown cautious around each other.
The challenge will be to establish and enforce
         congregational norms where little by little
         people can learn to trust each other again.

Christian faith is cruciform.
It has a vertical axis – we trust in God.
It also has a horizontal axis – we trust each other.
As we practice trusting God,
         we practice being trustworthy for each other,  
which takes a spiritual discipline of openness,
curiosity, compassion, and “respect for the dignity
of every human being.”
Only that trustworthiness, will open the relational space
         for horizontal faith – the foundation for all we do together.

My time with you has been a delight.
I have learned and grown and had fun.
I will always be grateful to Nevada for this special time of life.
I look forward to making another round of parish visits next year.
There will be a lot of loose ends left as I go,
         but I am confident you and your next Bishop
                  will deal with them faithfully to the glory of God.