What Matters Most

Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
Matthew 13:45-46

Some of the most helpful life rules are counter-intuitive, in that they invite us to go in the opposite direction from where we assume we’re supposed to go, or must go given the circumstances we’re facing and the demands before us.

One my favorite examples of this comes from the author and journalist Sara Miles. In her 20s, Miles worked as an assistant to a short order cook in one of the busiest restaurants in New York City. Things in the kitchen could get really intense, with as many as a hundred orders coming through in a matter of minutes. The cook, a seemingly ageless man who had worked in kitchens all his life, had a series of rules for the kitchen’s staff. And one of them was: when things get busy, slow down.  

“You gotta go slow to move fast,” he’d say when Sara and the others were inclined to panic under the pressure and respond with speed. Why is slowing down a good idea when things get busy? Because when you start running in a crowded kitchen with a lot on your mind, you’re far more likely to drop a plate of dishes, spill a vat of boiling oil, slip on wet floor.

Where else is such a life rule helpful? I was on my way to a meeting in Southern Maryland, running, as usual, about 15 minutes late. And what was I tempted to do?  Drive faster–way beyond the speed limit. I had to say to myself, “Better to arrive late, Mariann, than not arrive at all.” When it’s busy, slow down. When you’re running late, stick to the speed limit.

Here’s another counter-intuitive life rule, made famous by then-First Lady Michelle Obama, as she described how her family coped with personal attacks made by political adversaries: When they go low, we go high.  

There are many of versions of this one, all calling us to take the proverbial higher ground, “I shall never allow myself to stoop of low as to hate any person,” said Booker T. Washington. Why not? For his own soul’s sake. Moreover, as a way of combatting the evil in the world, hatred on our part often serves to give evil more energy to work with: “Hate cannot drive out hate,” Martin Luther King, Jr. would say. “Only love can do that.” We hear such counter-intuitive teachings throughout the New Testament:  “Render to no one evil for evil.” “When someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek as well.”  

Here’s one more re-directing life rule: When you’re feeling pulled in a thousand different directions at once, tend to the one or two things that nourish your soul. Said another way, when the demands of your life and the pressures of this world  have the effect of scattering your thoughts and energies, leaving you perennially exhausted, go deeper with those few things that matter most.

What matters most to you?

I’d like to make a case for the priceless value of your local church. I believe, as Bill Hybels once said, that the local church–your local church–is the hope of the world. I expand on the reasons why the church is of priceless values here, but for now, I give what is probably the most important reason of all: We are Christ’s body in the world.   

Quoting St. Teresa of Avila:

Christ has no body here but ours
No hand and feet here, on earth, but ours.
Ours are the eyes through which he look on this world with kindness.
Ours are the hands through which he works, ours the feet on which he moves.
Ours are the voices through which he speak to this world with kindness.

What could be more important?

So remember: when things get busy, slow down. When others go low, go high. When you feel yourself scattered and spread thin, focus on those things that matter most. And never forget that we are Christ’s body in the world.

Through our touch, our smile, our listening ear
Embodied in us, Jesus is living here.
So let us go now, filled with the Spirit, into his world with kindness.

September Council Highlights

Human Resources Committee Report

Paul Barkett (HR Committee), John Jasin (HR Committee), and Kathleen Hall

  • Health Plan Updates: Council unanimously approved an array of 5 health plans from the Episcopal Church Medical Trust (ECMT). ECMT will eliminate several of its Anthem BCBS plans at the end of 2018 and introduce comparable Anthem BlueCard options. Council has approved two new Anthem plans now to allow it to take effect in 2018. The Kaiser options and Anthem BCBS Consumer Driven Health Plan (CDHP) will remain part of the diocesan plan array. Both ECMT and the diocese will notify each person affected by these changes and will assist them in selecting a new plan. If you have any questions about these changes, please contact Kathleen Hall.

  • Lay & Clergy Compensation Table Updates: Council unanimously approved a recommendation from the committee to increase the clergy and lay salary tables by 2.4% effective January 1, 2018. The committee reviewed market data, projections and parish financial trends to arrive at this adjustment.

Finance Committee Report

Jim Jones (Finance Committee Chair) and Paul Cooney

  • Fiscal Year 2017 to Date: The finance committee reported to Council the current revenue and expenses for the diocese. Expenses are below budgeted levels forecast for this point in the year. Congregational giving is slightly behind forecast, but within historical norms. Overall, the committee believes we are on track to achieve budget targets by the end of the year.

  • Draft Fiscal Year 2018 Budget: The finance committee reported to Council the most recent draft of the FY18 diocesan budget that will be presented at regional assemblies this fall.

Items of note in the FY18 draft budget:

  • The budget is balanced

  • It maintains last year’s practice of reporting staff salaries within their respective budget categories.

  • It assumes a $150,000 increase of giving from parishes. This is $10,000 more than actual FY17 commitments.

  • The diocese remains committed to reducing its use of income from the Soper Fund for operations expenses. In the proposed budget, the diocese will increase the amount of available Soper income it holds in reserve for congregational growth grants to $150,000 ($120,000 was reserved in FY17).

  • The diocese will increase its giving to The Episcopal Church (AKA the wider church or national church) by $61,000 to bring our giving to  the 14.75% of diocesan income. The diocese will increase this giving to 15%, when this level of giving becomes mandatory in FY19.

  • There is a proposed pool of funds (2.5% of eligible employee compensation) available for merit-based staff compensation adjustments.

  • The budget has an assumed 6% increase in health insurance expenses.

Bishop’s Report

  • Diocesan Staff Changes: Bishop Mariann reported on preliminary efforts concerning alternative approaches to Church House staffing following the departure of Joey Rick, who has served as Canon of Congregational Vitality since 2012. Council offered its advice to the Bishop, and Church House staff will move forward with its work identifying how best to proceed.

  • Strategic Financial Resources Commission: The Strategic Financial Resources Commission has held two well-attended workshops on annual giving campaigns. These campaigns were well received and the commission plans to offer additional workshops on planned giving and capital campaigns. Julie Anderson, the SFRC program manager, has held interviews with each of the 17 congregations that applied for the pilot program. The commission is encouraged by the enthusiasm of applicants.

Regional Assemblies & Leadership Recruitment: Regional assemblies will take place during October and November. Bishop Mariann asked council to help identify persons interested in standing for election to positions of leadership in the diocese. View the offices open in each region and submit names for consideration online.

When Walking by Faith

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you.
Exodus 12: 1

We often say, for good reason, that September is the first month of the year for us, marking  the season of beginnings and beginning again. This September, for many, marks the beginning of a new reality  brought on by unexpected events. Certainly that’s true for those whose lives have been forever changed by wind, rain, and fire. Perhaps it’s true for you, due to circumstances beyond your control or because a new opportunity has suddenly presented itself. It’s true for me.

In the first days of a new reality, it’s comforting to remember disorientation is normal. We’re not expected to know the path forward right away. Rather, it’s a time for faith, asking God to illumine our path and inviting Jesus to be our companion and guide. It’s a time to pay attention to our intuition alongside our logic; and to seek the wisdom of others who have walked the path we find ourselves on.

The Franciscan priest Richard Rohr, in his daily meditation for September 7, writes:

I came out of the seminary in 1970 thinking that my job was to have an answer for every question. What I’ve learned is that not-knowing and often not even needing to know is—surprise of surprises—a deeper way of knowing and a deeper falling into compassion. . . Maybe that is why Jesus praised faith even more than love;  Yes, love is the final goal but ever deeper trust inside of darkness is the path for getting there.

Whatever this “first month of the year,” means for you, I pray God’s blessing and tender mercies. And I encourage us all to tend to the spiritual practices that are particularly helpful whenever we’re called to walk by faith and not by sight. Here are three tried and true practices:

  • Taking  time each day for silence and intentional prayer. It’s astonishing how nourishing even a few minutes of prayer can be. If you have a prayer practice, be faithful to it. If you need one, try something as simple as sitting in a chair and reading the stories and teachings of Jesus. I’m personally inspired by the example of our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, who prays with the daily office of Scripture readings.  I strive to do the same.

  • Being faithful in Sunday worship. I know that Sundays can be crowded with competing demands, and that church can sometimes feel like work. But the gifts of Christian community and the grace available to us when we show up to pray, be fed at Jesus’ table, and play our part in the body of Christ are priceless.

  • Finding ways each day to be of service to others. One of the surest ways to experience blessing is to be a blessing to other people. As St. Teresa of Avila reminds us all, “Christ has no body on earth but ours. Ours are the hands through which he works; ours the feet on which he walks; ours the voices through which he speaks to this world in kindness.”

I’m grateful to live in Christian community with you and look forward to this new year, with all its challenges and opportunities. We needn’t have the answer for every question. I certainly don’t. But I place my trust in Christ who is within, beside, and among us all. And I trust the Holy Spirit, whose power working in and through us can do infinitely more than we can ask for or imagine.

Joey Rick to Leave Church House Staff

Dear Friends of the Diocese of Washington,

With mixed emotions, I write with news that Ms. Joey Rick, canon for congregational vitality, has accepted a new position as chief culture officer of PartnerMD in Richmond, Virginia. Her last day with us will be Friday, September 22.

Like all who love Joey, I am happy that this great opportunity presented itself just as she was sensing the need to live closer to her family in Richmond. But how we will miss her joyful Spirit-filled presence and wise, engaging leadership.

Joey has brought a remarkable range of gifts to her work, beginning with her extensive professional background in organizational development and leadership, and including her deep and mature Christian faith; her boundless energy and her amazing capacity to exude contagious joy wherever her ministry has carried her.

The scope of her work among us is nothing short of breath-taking. Joey has helped more than half of our congregations and their search committees through the clergy transition processes. She has lead highly-customized vestry retreats for many congregations. She helped to conceive, launch and administer the Congregational Growth Grant program. She helped to create the vision and serving as one of the ongoing presenters for the Genesis program for clergy in new calls. She conceived and administered what have become our annual Leadership Learning Days. She provided sound, practical coaching to innumerable lay and clergy leaders across the diocese. In more ways than we will ever know, Joey has tirelessly helped to equip the saints in this diocese in a way that has expanded our capacity, deepened our faith, and sharpened our commitment for Christian service.

We’re working with diocesan leaders to discern our way forward, but the first task is abundantly clear: to thank Joey for all that she has given us and pray God’s blessing upon her and her husband Don, as they embark on this new adventure.

I warmly invite you to an evening prayer service and reception in Joey’s honor on Saturday, September 16, 4 p.m. at St. Columba’s Episcopal Church (map).

At the service, we will present Joey with several gifts, including a EDOW Memory Box that we’d like to fill with your notes of thanks and blessings for her future. If you’d like to send your cards and notes to the diocesan office by September 13, we’ll place the in the box, or you can bring your offering to the service/celebration or mail it to Joey directly.

We want the celebration to be meaningful, with room for laughter and tears. It would be a great help to us if you could let us know you plan to attend, so we can plan accordingly.

I hope to see you on September 16.

Faithfully,

Bishop Mariann

Tuesday Rally in Support of DACA

Bishop of Washington at Tuesday Rally in Support of DACA:

“The president’s decision is not the final answer on DACA”

Washington, D.C.–The Right Reverend Mariann Edgar Budde, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, joined a group of immigration advocates, dreamers, and other faith leaders in front of the White House this morning at a rally in support of the DACA program and its recipients. As Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the president’s decision to end the program in 6 months if Congress refused to act, Bishop Budde was among those who led the group in prayer. She offered the following remarks and concluding prayer.

“I speak to you on behalf of four interfaith leaders: His Eminence Donald Cardinal Wuerl, archbishop of Washington; Rabbi M. Bruce Lustig, senior rabbi of Washington Hebrew Congregation; Imam Talib M. Shareef of Masjid Muhammad, The Nation’s Mosque, and myself.

“Last week we sent a letter to Present Trump and members of Congress, speaking with one voice to state emphatically that our respective sacred texts and teachings are clear: supporting the dreams of young immigrants in the United States is consistent with the moral imperative of extending hospitality to the stranger, of caring for immigrants and children, and of loving our neighbors as ourselves.

“Now that the president has acted, we will turn our attention to Congress.

“I want to speak now to the dreamers present: You are part of our communities, part of this country. I want you to know that you belong here. We love you; we are so proud of you; and we need your gifts, talents and hard work to help make this country live up to its greatest ideals. Your dream is the American dream of opportunity and diversity, of safe haven and of building a better life for ourselves and our families. The future of this country is in your hands. The president’s decision is not the final answer on DACA. We commit ourselves to work with and alongside you for a better day.

“Let us pray: Gracious God, we hold before you the young people of our nation, and especially those who now must worry if the only country they know as home will banish them. Empower and sustain them in this uncertain time, as we do our part, in our time, to ensure all in our country recognize the treasure that they are to us, and how blessed we are by all that they are contributing now and long to contribute in the future to the building up of our nation. Give us all strength and courage; wisdom and humility; clarity and compassion for the living of these days. Amen.”