Presented: January 27, 2017
Location: Washington National Cathedral
Event: The 123rd Convention of the Diocese of Washington
Watch: Sermon Video
A charge to keep I have; A God to glorify, A never-dying soul to save, And fit it for the sky. To serve the present age, My calling to fulfill: Oh, may it all my pow’rs engage; To do my Master’swill! Let the church say “Amen.” (acknowledgements. President Bishop Michael Curry. To my sister, bishop Mariann Budde, the bishop of the Washington diocese. And to all of you my sisters and brothers in Christ. Members of Mt. Ennon.)
I’ve been reflecting on my assignment today. I am often asked by church leaders to account for how we have grown from 2 to 10,000 members in 14 years. Oftentimes what is behind their query is an interest in some program or strategy that may account for our growth. And we have those, and I hope to share them with leaders to are able to attend a sit down session with me at our church in the coming months. But when I think about where we are as a church, our growth is a function of a mindset in the people long before I arrived. Mt. Ennon was a successful church you might say before I even got there. The 300 seat sanctuary was filled three times every Sunday, and to accommodate the growing membership the Lord led the people and my predecessor to build a new church. A sanctuary that now seats 2500 people. And the reason we fill it now three times every Sunday is because of a mindset in the people when they were considering the call of a new pastor. One key leader told me that while the church was successful in the old church that was a recognition that the way they did ministry would not work in the new one; that the culture of worship, the approach to ministry, the model of governance as effective and successful as it was in the past, would not be viable in the future; in their new context. And if I could offer anything, it would be that that perceptiveness in the people to embrace change, to welcome innovation, and to understand the change doesn’t have to be a critique of the past, but is an open door to the future. My title today is “Reaching Eutychus: A 21st Century Imperative”
Text – Acts 20: 7-12 7 On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread, Paul was holding a discussion with them; since he intended to leave the next day, he continued speaking until midnight.8 There were many lamps in the room upstairs where we were meeting. 9 A young man named Eutychus, who was sitting in the window, began to sink off into a deep sleep while Paul talked still longer. Overcome by sleep, he fell to the ground three floors below and was picked up dead. 10 But Paul went down, and bending over him took him in his arms, and said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” 11 Then Paul went upstairs, and after he had broken bread and eaten, he continued toconverse with them until dawn; then he left. 12 Meanwhile they had taken the boy away alive and werenot a little comforted.
Intro. – As we gather here today, I’m reminded of Dr. King’s last Sunday sermon delivered right here at the National Cathedral almost 50 years ago on March 31st. And in that sermon, Dr. King told the story written by Washington Irving, entitled “Rip Van Winkle.”…you know that story don’t you; of how Rip Van Winkle went up into a mountain and slept there for 20 years. The often overlooked point of the story is that when Rip Van Winkle went to sleep, King George III of England ruled the American colonies. (There was sign on the mountain with the King’s picture on it when Rip went to sleep.) But when Rip woke up 20 years later the sign had a picture of George Washington, the first president of the United States. When Rip Van Winkle woke up and saw that picture, he was confused and bewildered, he did not know who George Washington was. During the time Rip was asleep, the
American revolution had been fought and won, and the colonies were no longer under British control.And so, the tragedy of this story is not just that Rip Van Winkle slept for so long, but that he slept through a revolution. While he was silently sleeping in the solitude of that mountain, change was taking place and a revolution was being waged, and Rip knew nothing about it because he was asleep.The story, said Dr. King, tells us that one of the great tragedies of life is that all too many people find themselves living amidst a period of great social change, and yet they miss it because they were asleep. In a real sense friends, I want to suggest that’s where we find ourselves today; amidst a period of great spiritual and social change, and yet unfortunately the church is asleep. What a poignant and powerful metaphor for us to reflect upon today, as The Church universal, and local churches in particular, wrestle with relevance and grapple with significance in the midst of shifting and changing times, we must ask ourselves whether we have been sleeping through a revolution. Every other sector of society seems to be able, and willing to adapt to the realities of change, and seems prepared to make the hard decisions that come with it, but the church seems to be the only institution fixated on building altars around the past, and erecting monuments around what God did that it misses what God is doing. That’s what comes to mind to me when I reflect upon what is happening in this 20th chapter of Acts. (Consider it with me if you will.) On the eve of Paul’s return to Jerusalem, Paul convened a mixed group of believers and potential converts to share and discuss his teachings. And in the service was a young man by the name of Eutychus who became overwhelmed by the length of Paul’s discourse. Eutychus, according to the “A” clause of verse 9, “… was sitting in the window, (when)began to sink off into a deep sleep while Paul preached still longer.” Apparently, the length of Paul’s sermon, which lasted well past midnight (cf. Acts 20: 7), was too much for Eutychus to handle. I can only imagine that with each hour, his eyelids grew heavier, his head struggled to keep from drooping,and he must have constantly changed his seating position to try and stay awake. But Paul’s unending sermon was too much for Eutychus to handle. Overcome by sleep and fatigue, he “fell to the ground three floors below and was picked up dead.” (Acts 20: 9b; NRSV) Isn’t that interesting and sad at the same time? Someone came to the worship service looking for encouragement and inspiration, but ended up being killed by the preacher and the ministry of the church. Paul does venture to rescue theboy and to seemingly bring him back to life, but the tragedy is that the great apostle seems completely oblivious to what has just happened and why it happened. Eutychus has fallen asleep physically, but Paul seems to have fallen asleep mentally. After helping the boy, Paul goes back upstairs and, you know what he does? Rather than changing his approach, rather than modifying his methods and his techniques, Paul goes back upstairs and preaches according to verse 11 for another 6 hours. The church people at the service seem to be comforted by the fact that Eutychus has returned to life (Acts 20: 12), and Paul seems to be reinvigorated that his reputation has been salvaged by the miracle, and sails off to continue his missionary travels, and to conduct business as usual. This story, while inspiring to some, is a sad reminder of the way in which many churches engage in ministry. They ignore the way in which their methods and approach to ministry impact those whom God has called the Church to reach. And consequently, many of our churches are struggling and others dying because of the inability of some and the unwillingness of others to reach “Eutychus.” “Eutychus” for preaching purposes stands for those who have been disaffected from the church. “Eutychus” stands for those who used to be members of our churches, but now find themselves attending other independent denominations, or not affiliating anywhere all. “Eutychus” is a symbol for those who want what the church offers and need what the church stands for, but because those of us in the church are so focused on ourselves, our preferences, and what worked for us, we are failing to reach Eutychus today.
Our success at Mt. Ennon is because we have tried to avoid the common tendency among church leaders to dismiss what’s happening in the church world today. We have avoided the false assumption that the only way to grow is to embrace a prosperity gospel and give up on social justice.I hear this perspective advanced all the time among my progressive Christian friends. They justify their lack of effectiveness by telling themselves that the only way to grow in ministry is to focus on the self-help preaching and conservative politics that they see in televangelists. They sit around and comfort themselves by rehearsing the false dichotomy between personal piety and the public witness of the Gospel. Then they turn to criticize people in this contemporary generation. This generation,they say, is intellectually. they say this generation is not interested in justice, they say this generation is only interested in that which is shallow, and superficial, and that is why they follow those people on television. Well, that is not my testimony, and it is not the testimony of my church. Our church has grown because we have taken seriously the phenomenology of religion to speak to hearts and spiritual aspirations of men and women, and at the same time have taken seriously the mandate of the gospel to preach good news to the poor, to liberate the oppressed, and to set at liberty them that are bruised. If the church is to reach Eutychus today, we can no longer accept dichotomies that pit social justice against personal piety; emotion against reason; high liturgy against spontaneous spiritual dynamism. Even if it worked in the past it will no longer work today. (illustration) I’m reminded of the great spiritual revival that Judah experienced 700 years before the birth of Christ under King Hezekiah. The bible says in 2 Kings 18: 4 that the community thrived and grew because Hezekiah”broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it…” Now that’s interesting. Tearing down the high places, the pillars, and the sacred poles makes sense because those things were contrary to worship of Yahweh, but why would God lead Hezekiah to destroy that bronze snake. That snake was not one of those idolatrous snakes that the Israelites brought with them out of Egypt. It was a good snake. As a matter of fact, Numbers chapter 21 tells us, it was a Godly snake. It was in the life of the congregation because God told them to make it. “The Lord said to Moses,” in Number 21, “‘Make a snake, and put it on a pole, and anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.'” This was a good snake and it was there in the life of the people because God had instructed them to make it. It was a good snake. God used that bronze snake to deliver the Israelites from the scourge of snakes that were plaguing them. It was a sign of divine deliverance. It was a symbol of a great miracle, and it was there in the life of the people because God had moved in their lives and the Lord told them to put it up there on that pole. But over time that snake was wrapped in bronze and was passed down from generation to generation, and by the time Solomon built the temple 500 years later, someone found that snake and placed it in the temple. And eventually as people were going to the temple, they began lighting incense to that snake, and rather than being a reminder of past victories, gradually it became an object of worship. The people built an altar around the snake and started venerating and worshiping this relic of the past. It used to bea good snake, but then they started worshiping that snake. It was a good snake, but it had turned bad. And revival came in Judah because Hezekiah had the courage enough to destroy the snake. And when he did that there were people who were very upset about it. They started a “Save Our Snake”committee. They passed a petition around the temple. But Hezekiah knew that the snake had to be destroyed. I have found at Mt. Ennon that our ability to stay on the pulse of spiritual relevance and maintain our commitment to social justice is because we don’t worship what God did to the point that is causes is to miss what God is doing. We acknowledge, but we don’t built altars around prior seasons of success that we miss current opportunities to change. Churches, like every institution in society, fail when they become experts of nostalgia, venerators of the past, and curators of what worked that we miss what is working. And I see this all the time. Churches erect altars around styles of worship, types of music, approaches to ministry, etc…. approaches that worked for them, and they assume that it will work and that it should work forever everyone throughout the ages. And when that happens we begin to elevate our preferences over God’s purposes. We begin to want other people to conform to our experience with God, and our preferred style of worship, and in the course we miss the source of the worship which is God. We become religious chauvinists and spiritual Pharisees thinking that other people ought to experience God in the way and in the manner that we experienced God. And when that happens we begin worshiping the deliverance instead of the deliverer. The healing instead of the healer. The miracle instead of the miracle worker. Redemption instead of the redeemer. The salvation instead of the savior. As legitimate as our encounter with God is God is greater than our experience. Scripture is correct, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love him.” God is indeed able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we could ever ask think or imagine.
The church has been charged with the task of spreading the gospel in the midst of shifting and changing times. According to a 2008 LifeWay Research survey published in USA Today, seven in 10 Protestants ages 18 to 30, both evangelical and mainline, who went to church regularly in high school said they quit attending by age 23, and 34% of those said they had not returned, even sporadically, by age 30. Globalization, pluralism, technological innovations provide challenging yet wonderful opportunities for us to reimagine worship, re-envision ministry, and reconsider our reason for being at a time when the world needs our mission, our mandate, and our message more than it has ever needed it before. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Hulu, Netflix are not pretexts for us to fold up shop and go home, but provide wonderful occasions for us innovate structures, and reinvigorate policies so that we can reach the masses. But to do that, we can’t remain stuck; stuck in old paradigms,old methodologies, and old approaches; stuck debating questions no one is asking anymore. To reach Eutychus we must do now what God did then in order to reach those who were isolated from the Jesus movement and disaffected from the church. You do know this is not the first time the church has confronted the threat of irrelevance? When Jesus died and ascended into heaven the band of Jesus followers were all Palestinian Jews who all spoke one language, Aramaic. In order to be a part of the Jesus movement you had to speak the way they spoke, and you had to do it the way they did it.According the Acts 1: 8, this was an unacceptable situation in the eyesight of the Lord. The Lord wanted His Church to have meaning and relevance beyond the geographical and cultural confines of the city of Jerusalem. The ministry and message of Jesus was to connect with those in Judea, Samaria,and the uttermost part of the earth. According to the theology, literary context, and rhetoric of the passage, this could not happen so long as the followers of Jesus only spoke one language. They had to have the ability to speak intelligibly to those who were not a part of the community of faith. So what did God do? Fifty days after the ascension of Jesus, on the day of the Jewish Feast of Pentecost,God empowered this beleaguered group of believers in the upper room with the Holy Spirit, and according to the text they spoke in languages that those outside the faith community could understand(cf. Acts 2: 1-11). God’s method for addressing the growing chasm between the Church and the unchurched was to empower the believers to speak a language (cf. Acts 2: 4) that the world could understand. That’s what Pentecost was all about. It was not about speaking in an unintelligible ecstatic utterance, as many today assume. It was God empowering the church to speak in a language that those outside the church could understand. Likewise today, if the Church is to reach Eutychus,and remain relevant, if it is to revive, restore, and renew fellowship with the dechurched, it must use a ministry language, and use methods of ministry that those outside the church can understand.”Churches cannot stand apart from society and invite people to come to them on their terms,” says Eddie Gibbs in his book Church Next. “Rather, churches must go to people where they are and communicate in terms that will make sense to them, addressing the issues that shape their lives and speaking in their language.” To do that we must remain open-minded about the prospect of using new techniques, new technologies, and new tools to reach those of all ages, and all backgrounds who need to know the love, and the joy, and the peace, and the power that comes through Jesus Christ.
That is our calling, that is our charge. Regardless of how good, how great, and how meaningful our past encounter with God was, I believe, and we must believe that God wants to give us another experience of God’s goodness, God’s glory, and God’s grace. I’m so glad that the God we serve is a God of progress. If God had stopped moving, the world never would have been created in the book of Genesis. If God had stopped moving, Noah’s Ark would never have been built. If God had stopped moving, the Red Sea wouldn’t have been parted, the promised land wouldn’t have been possessed,and the fiery furnace wouldn’t have been cooled. If God had stopped moving, the lion’s den wouldn’t have been opened, Jonah would still be in the belly of that fish, and David would never have defeated Goliath. If God had stopped moving, Jesus wouldn’t have been born, death wouldn’t have been defeated, and we wouldn’t have been saved from our sins. But I thank God church that he’s still moving. God is still feeding multitudes, God is still opening blinded eyes, He’s still making the lame walk, he’s still conquering death, he still healing sickness, he’s still making provision, he’s still opening doors, he’s still moving mountains, he’s still parting seas, cooling furnaces, defeating giants,tearing down walls. He’s still healing hurts, saving sinners, changing hearts. The Episcopal Church is a great church. Amen, but let us not stay too long on yesterday’s victories that we miss tomorrow’s opportunities. God has more for you. God has more for us together. The bible says “morning by morning new mercies I see.” I don’t know about any of you today, but I want a fresh anointing, anew elevation, another promotion, another yes. Let us not take what should be a spirit inspired movement, and turn it into a museum. The world needs us today. In a world of racism, and sexism,and classism, and cynicism, the world needs to know that there’s a bright side somewhere.
View the sermon on video here.
Address by Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde at the 123rd Diocesan Convention on January 27, 2018 at Washington National Cathedral. [Watch video here]
Taking the five loaves and the two fish, Jesus looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and Jesus divided the two fish among them all. And all ate and were filled.
Our God is both faithful and fruitful.
Jesus, whose love for us knows no bounds, is faithful. He has chosen us in love, and calls us to live as closely to him as branches to the vine. He sends us out to bear fruit,but our fruitfulness isn’t up to us alone or, in the end, even about us. Fruitfulness comes from making more room in our lives for God to work, offering to Jesus what we have and allowing him to work miracles.
It takes courage to receive God’s love, to draw close to Jesus, and to make our offerings through him.
You should know something about me, if you don’t already. I am not, by nature, a courageous person, but have learned to trust in the miracle of the loaves and fish. My faith story, and my experience of serving as your bishop, is a continual evidence of Jesus’ capacity to make miracles of abundance from my insufficient offering. Were it not for the miracle of the loaves and fish, lived out every day in my life, I would not be here. Every time I hear Jesus invite me to offer what I have, knowing full well that it’s not enough to meet whatever need is before me, I am as anxious as the disciples must have felt when they stood before a hungry crowd with just bit of food. Then he says, “Look at me. Offer me what you have for their sake then get out of the way and let me do what I do.”
In preparation for today, I’ve been collecting what can only be described as EDOW loaves and fish miracle stories, and there are many. Time won’t permit me to tell them all, but please allow these stories to bring to mind how God has been at work in and through you. I encourage you to take out a pen and paper to take notes and follow up with someone mentioned here who might be of help to you or seems to be in alignment with your experiences, so that you might make your offering together and see what Jesus can do.
The first EDOW loaves and fish miracle is right here in the place where we are gathered. May God be praised for the transformation of Washington National Cathedral under the leadership of Dean Randy Hollerith and the Cathedral team. Much of their work we can’t see, because it’s in the strengthening of the foundation for healthy ministry. A Cathedral like this needs a strong foundation. Through the offerings of many and what Jesus is doing through them, the Cathedral is building a strong spiritual, material, financial, and leadership foundation for ministry. The Cathedral team, lay and ordained, staff and volunteer, have worked tirelessly to reach out to us in the diocese, to the city of Washington in all its grace and complexity, to this nation at a time of great polarization, and offer the unique gifts of this place for the greater good. The Cathedral community has undertaken courageous soul searching through two significant efforts regarding its public ministry, which we will hear more about later. For now, I ask you to join me in thanking the Cathedral leadership for their hospitality this weekend and whenever we gather as diocesan community.
Here are other loves and fish miracle stories from across the diocese:
In November 2017, the congregations of St. George’s, Valley Lee, and Ascension, Lexington Park, gathered to celebrate and bless a new ministry relationship between them with the call of the Rev. Greg Syler to be rector of both congregations.
This is the not the first, nor the last, of such creative partnerships in the diocese. While remaining independent congregations, Ascension and St. George’s now come together for worship during holy seasons and for Christian formation. Last summer’s combined Vacation Bible School served 42 children, and yes, that is the rector in a superhero costume.
Each endeavor was stronger, more joyful and more fruitful because they worked together. They also began a new ministry in their community that neither church could have accomplished alone: an after-school tutoring program for 1st and 2nd grade students of a nearby elementary school with a high concentration of poverty. Members of both congregations are now in daily contact with their neighbors, sharing Jesus’ love for their children.
But Greg told me that the biggest impact of their collaboration is this: the fact that the business of church is no longer the mission of the church. Sharing a rector, parish administrator, and related administrative costs–which is more than 60% of both operating budgets–has eased the financial burden on both congregations. The vestries now meet on the same night and are exploring way to share even more expenses, so that instead of running deficits every year, they may well have a $10,000 – $15,000 surplus which will enable them to invest in new initiatives.
The leaders would be the first to say that the change hasn’t been easy, but what they are striving for is increased fruitful ministry through the grace of God and their combined efforts. What’s more, the congregational leaders have become good friends. Together, they are the body of Christ; they are a loaves and fish miracle.
On the other end of the Diocese, Northern Montgomery County is experimenting with a shared youth ministry initiative. The youth ministries of these congregations are small, yet faithful. Last year, the Rev. Shivaun Wilkinson offered to organize a once-a-month joint gathering, and to serve as a resource for the congregations. Now 15-20 youth gather monthly for service and social activities, with hopes of offering opportunities for spiritual mentoring and deepening friendship across congregations.
The ministry of feeding body and soul is central to a new ministry at St. Peter’s, Poolesville. A few years ago, they reached out to Poolesville High School, just down the street, and offered to provide lunch for students going without food in the middle of the day for financial reasons. They called the ministry Just Lunch and expected they would feed 20-30 students, but there’s more than one kind of hunger, and it was more than “just lunch” that they were offering. Students flock to St. Peter’s, not only for the free lunch, but the warm welcome and sense of peace they find there. On average, they provide lunch and kindness to 100 students every day. It’s been a bit overwhelming, but it’s also a loaves and fishes miracle. God is faithful, and the community of Poolesville has rallied to support St. Peter’s, and together they are making a difference in the lives of students.
Both endeavors, Northern Montgomery County Youth and Just Lunch are funded, in part, by diocesan congregational growth grants made possible by our collective decision to move toward a congregational tithe to support diocesan ministry, increasing one percentage point per year. Thank you.
Let’s take a moment to celebrate what you have offered and what God can do through your offerings: In 2016, 33 congregations increased by 1 percentage point; last year 22 did so. And two-thirds of the congregations who have submitted their pledges for 2018 are either tithing or have joined the one percent club. What we’re doing is gradually chipping away at our collective dependence on income from the Soper Fund, and investing those resources in congregational initiatives. In the last two years, we’ve redirected more than $300,000 to help fund ministry experiments throughout the diocese. With each endeavor, we’re learning what bears fruit in this changing ministry landscape.
Here is another miracle: In Southeast DC, the members of Church of the Atonement have responded to Jesus’ call to love their neighbors by establishing the Atonement Young Adult Employment Ministry. Their goal is to address the high unemployment and social isolation among young adults of color in their neighborhood. They provide job readiness training and entry level placement, and with ongoing mentoring and skill certification, they are offering so much more. The rector, Jocelyn Irving, says, “We are here to love these young people, pray with them, and teach them the skills they need. When they fall, we’re here to pick them back up.”
Senior Warden Obie Pinckney told me, “This is the strongest evangelistic tool I have ever witnessed. Jesus is changing lives.” Atonement has now reached out to Church of the Epiphany in Forestville, their closest neighbor, with hopes for ministry partnership and expansion into Prince George’s County. Mr. Pinckney said that the growth grant Atonement received was key to their early success.
On the northern end of Prince George’s County, the rector of St. Philip’s, Laurel, the Rev. Dr. Sheila McJilton, and several lay leaders felt the call to help their people go deeper in relationship to Christ. Like many of our churches, St. Philip’s does a lot of outreach, but they have a harder time talking about Jesus, even with each other.
So last fall, on Saturday evenings, St. Philip’s offered an Alpha Course–a series of presentations on basic Christian beliefs in the context of a meal and table conversation. Thirty people regularly showed up. One parishioner, a long-time member said: “We sit in pews and worship every week, but I so appreciate having the chance to sit across a table to talk and about our faith.” By the end of the fifth session, participants were openly praying for each other. The Saturday night gathering continues, re-named Philip’s Table, as a time of faith exploration, prayer, and hospitality.
Another thing about St. Philip’s that you should know. A year ago, the church received a generous bequest. They prayed hard about how God would have them invest this windfall treasure for the Kingdom of God. They decided to use some for strategic leadership development, hiring a beloved seminarian as assistant to the rector for the next 2 years. They also decided right away to tithe their gift, including giving nearly $100,000 to the diocese for congregational growth initiatives. We, in turn, used those resources to partner with two other congregations so that they could hire graduating EDOW seminarians as priest interns for two years. Through St. Philip’s generosity, the Rev. Serena Sides is serving at Christ Church, Capitol Hill; and the Rev. Richard Weinberg at St. Margaret’s, D.C.
As more resources from the Soper Fund become available for ministry investment, our goal is to ensure that all EDOW-sponsored seminarians can come back for a two-year internship, allowing their gifts–that we affirmed as what we need in future clergy–to bear fruit here.
While Christ Church, Capitol Hill has a growing ministry among younger families, there we also focused on the largest and fastest growing demographic in the country and in our congregations: those 70 years and older. Eldership is spiritual terrain largely unexplored. The gifts of eldership are often overlooked because of the inevitable and often painful losses that accompany aging and our culture’s obsession with youth. Where do we go to talk honestly about the loss? What is our offering when we are blessed with long life? Remember not everyone is.
Last summer, Seabury Services for the Aging, and one of our deacons, the Rev. Susan Walker, piloted an offering entitled, Sightlines: Spirituality and Purpose for the Way Ahead. Twenty people from the church and neighborhood participated each week in August. Twenty people in August. That got our attention.
Sightlines will be offered again next month in a collaborative venture between two congregations in Southern Montgomery County–Grace and Church of the Ascension in Silver Spring. Imagine if the Episcopal Church became known as the place where eldership is celebrated, and where rising generations experience love and generosity from their elders. We are inviting rising deacons who sense a call to elder ministry, and others, to participate with us, so that through their leadership, we might offer eldership ministries throughout the diocese.
Speaking of deacons–we all should be in awe of what God is doing in our midst. We now have a comprehensive deacon’s program, led by Archdeacon Sue von Rautenkranz and the Deacon’s Leadership Team.
An extraordinary group of men and women have heard God’s call and answered it. We now have 10 deacons serving in parishes, 12 more to be ordained in September, and 9 in the first stages of their formation. In just a few years we will have deacons serving in every region of the diocese. This is a significant diocesan commitment, which you will see reflected in staffing and budgeting allocations, but what a fruitful investment.
I’m moving into more challenging terrain now, as I must. For one of the things that happens to us as followers of Jesus is that we’re often called to show up where the love of God is needed most; and where the justice closest to God’s heart needs our hearts, our hands and feet. And that can messy. The work is hard. But when we don’t show up, Jesus doesn’t have our offering to work with, and our absence communicates to the world a message of indifference that is counter to the gospel.
I thank God that He has placed concerns for racial justice on the hearts of many EDOW congregations this year. In Lent three Central DC congregations—St. Luke’s, St. Margaret’s, and St. Thomas’—met together to take a deep dive into issues of racial justice, reading Jim Wallis’ book: America’s Original Sin. This fall, All Souls in Woodley Park have joined them, and together they convene a monthly gathering, Thirsting for Justice.
Other congregations, including the Cathedral, have held forums and workshops. Some are examining their congregation’s racial history, which is not easy, given that many of our churches were surely built by slaves and their balconies were essentially slave quarters. Members of our churches were on both sides of the Civil War. They participated in forced segregation and the rise of Jim Crow. Several of our African American congregations were birthed in these tumultuous years and were both a spiritual sanctuary and leadership schools for their communities. The Civil Rights Era was another great wave of transformation and struggle, and our churches were in the middle of it all–on all sides. White suburban flight, the disappearance of urban jobs, the city riots. We were right there. Congregations in now predominantly black neighborhoods were once white churches in white neighborhoods. Some of those neighborhoods are changing again, and people of color are in the suburbs and those white flight churches are now multicultural. Many of our churches have benefited from the great immigration from African and Caribbean nations and from Spanish speaking countries. There are blessings and challenges. There are deep historical wounds and great gifts. Race is one of the great fault lines in our country and our diocese. We have issues to talk about. We need Jesus to get us to the Beloved Community.
I want to say something about the Cathedral Chapter’s decision to remove windows, placed in the nave in the 1950s, exalting the lives of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. The entire decision making process was undertaken with extraordinary care. I want to thank everyone in the diocese and the Cathedral community who let your views be known. You helped us realize that in a Cathedral that strives to be a house of prayer for all people, symbols and icons from the slave era have no place in its sanctuary. Moreover, as racial issues have intensified in our time and Confederate symbols have direct associations with white supremacist groups, it was clear that the windows needed to be removed. They are now in storage, waiting for the right time for placement in an appropriate historical setting somewhere on the Cathedral grounds. In good time, the Cathedral will commission artists to imagine what new windows could say to us about God’s dream of racial reconciliation in our land.
Both the Diocese of Washington and Washington National Cathedral are aligning ourselves with a church-wide initiative our Presiding Bishop calls: Becoming the Beloved Community. The next few months are rich with opportunities for us all to go deeper in this holy work as we approach the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King. Trusting in God, speaking with both courage and compassion, we can help bring our nation to a deeper awareness, repentance and the reconciliation God longs for.
Another place where God’s love is surely needed, and where some of us feel called to show up, is in response to our country’s epidemic of gun violence and to help heal the wounds it causes. There have been 13 school shootings in 2018, all in the month of January.
Every year in December, family members of the children killed at Sandy Hook elementary school come to Washington DC to speak to their congressional representatives, on the anniversary of the shooting. Survivors and family members from other shootings now join them. Every December St. Mark’s, Capitol Hill hosts the Newtown Action Alliance providing, as they do for all manner of people who make their way to Washington, respite and welcome. (You should know that this time last year, St. Mark’s offered hospitality to those who came to celebrate the inauguration of President Trump and on the next day, to those who came for the Women’s March.)
On the anniversary of Sandy Hook last month, St. Mark’s sanctuary was filled to capacity with grieving people, gathered in song and prayer. Yet the tender love and firm resolve to rid the world of such tragedy was awe inspiring. I remain part of a national coalition of red and blue state bishops determined to help our nation find a way to end the gun violence epidemic while protecting basic 2nd Amendment rights. We can do this, and we must.
Gun violence is not the only public health crisis in our land. Another of our congregations took the courageous step to be present in a place of suffering that few of us have been willing to acknowledge. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Waldorf sponsored a community-wide meeting to talk about the opioid crisis in Charles County. In the words of the rector, the Rev. Dr. Maria Kane, “People are hiding in the shadows of our communities filled with shame. Our task is to remove the stigma of opioid addiction and respond with compassion to our neighbors and family members.” As with gun violence, the opioid epidemic seems overwhelming, but when we as church show up, acknowledge what’s happening in our own families and join in solidarity with others, Jesus can work through our offering and the world changes.
Still another way our church shows up is among immigrant populations. For we are an immigrant church. 34 of our 88 congregations are multicultural. We have 7 congregations offering worship in Spanish.
2017 was a challenging year to be an immigrant in this country. A large percentage of our immigrant members are citizens and legal residents. Some are undocumented, but many have been able to work or go to school legally through the Temporary Protected Status and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival programs. Now they are at risk of deportation to countries devastated by war and poverty. But in our congregations, people find support, love, community–sanctuary in the full sense of the world. You should know that St. Matthew’s/San Mateo is one of the largest congregations in the diocese, worshipping with as many as 600 on a Sunday, and consistently present at Cathedral confirmations with the largest classes each year.
One of the great EDOW miracle stories of this year was the establishment of our newest worshipping community, Misa Magdalena. God first gave the vision to Missioner Sarabeth Goodwin and several families in the Aspen Hill neighborhood of Silver Spring. They were warmly embraced by St. Mary Magdalene Church, and we now have a bilingual community in one of the most densely populated Latino neighborhoods in the metro region. Many Latinos of Aspen Hill own their homes and businesses.
Misa Magdalena is funded, in part, by a 3-year $100,000 grant from the wider Episcopal Church. That grant, along with two smaller grants we have received, was possible due to our commitment to meet dioceses across the country at a mandatory 15% giving to the wider church.
Another EDOW miracle story is the Bishop Walker School, which may well rank, along with Samaritan Ministry of Greater Washington, as the most broad ranging collaborative endeavor of the diocese. We’ll hear more about the Bishop Walker School’s new home later today as together we celebrate its 10th anniversary.
The final EDOW miracle I’ll mention in this address is the establishment of a new commission dedicated to the financial health of our congregations. Called into being at last year’s Convention, in its first year the Strategic Financial Resource Commission has assisted 24 congregations with annual giving campaigns and has entered into a long-term relationship with 6 congregations in a pilot project to build comprehensive financial capacity.
This is a long term initiative, one that I will support through my entire episcopate. It simply cannot serve God and the Kingdom for our ministries to be chronically underfunded or overwhelmed by building maintenance and the anxieties of declining membership. While our challenges are many, we’re already seeing that there are proactive, strategic steps to help turn the trends of decline around.
In 2018, the Commission’s work continues. As noted in your information handout, we’ve scheduled two more annual giving workshops, and a planned giving workshop, and Commission members are always available for consultations and support. It even has a booth here at the Convention, so you can begin the conversation today.
It’s been quite a year, and we’ve come a long way together. God willing, we have a long journey ahead of us. I came into my episcopate with a 20 year vision and that has not changed.
Shifting to a sports metaphor now: in this, my 7th year as your bishop, I feel called to encourage us all to take a 7th inning stretch in the first game in a doubleheader.
In fact, why don’t you all stand up right and stretch right now?
Our diocesan mission statement focuses diocesan energy and resources in three major areas:
- Growing Christian Community
- Connecting Spirituality to Everyday Life (Christian discipleship)
- Striving for Justice
We have, and will continue to devote considerable energy, in the work of justice. Given who and where we are, justice work is non-negotiable. As the Presiding Bishop said recently, “Followers of Jesus do not leave the world the way they find it. Followers of Jesus change the world.” I believe that. I’m standing here because of people who came before me determined to change the world for women. That world-changing work continues.
But this year, this 7th inning stretch year, I ask you to lean into those areas of ministry that build up your joy, that feed your souls, that create Christian communities so compelling that others will be drawn to us because of the love, passion, and support they feel in our presence.
This is joy building, soul feeding ministry we can do more easily with each other, as we’ve worked to align ourselves toward one another and explore ways to share the work and multiply the fruits.
That will be a primary focus of your diocesan staff, including your bishop, in 2018. We are here to help nurture and cultivate the seeds of life God is sowing in and among you. We are all focused on building up the body of Christ–that’s you, all of you, together.
So when God gives you a new idea, stop and ask yourselves, with whom could we partner to more fruitfully realize this dream? Know that we will be doing the same. Each congregation has auxiliary staff in your diocesan team, people who get up every day and ask the question, How can we be of help? How we can build up the Body of Christ? As we do this work together, I promise you, our communities will grow.
Speaking as your pastor now, I urge you to lean into our second priority, which is drawing closer to Jesus, and to taking the next courageous step in faithfulness to where he’s leading you. Not everyone’s next step will be the same. For you, it might be small steps or a a great leap of faith. I don’t know.
I do know this, from personal experience: trying to be faithful and fruitful apart from Jesus is exhausting. Most of my failures and mistakes occur not because I’m not trying hard enough, but rather when I’m trying too hard, on my own. I wonder for how many of you the same is true. We could all use encouragement and gentle accountability in our daily walk with God.
This year, I ask each of you to join me in making your life of prayer a top priority. Commit, or recommit, to the daily and weekly practices of prayer. Last night at Upbeat, and today on your chairs we passed out SpiritTrip cards with the exhortation to pray and read Scripture every day.
Let me be more specific: set aside 10 to 15 minutes each day, to sit, or walk, or ride your bike or walk your dog–in silence–offering to God the prayers of your heart, then stop and say, in the words of Scripture, “Now speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Spend time daily pondering the words of Scripture so that you not only read the Bible, but that through the stories and teachings of our sacred texts, Jesus might speak to you. Some of you, I know, are seasoned at prayer and guides for the rest of us. We need your guidance, and your best creative energies.
To you church leaders–clergy, vestry members, and diocesan delegates–I ask you to return to your congregations and commit with me to providing resources for your people, so that it’s clear to everyone that prayer, our personal relationships to God in Christ and daily reading of Scripture, are of highest priority.
Everytime I visit you, I will encourage you in daily prayer and Scripture study. One of my greatest sources of inspiration, the Rev. Adam Hamilton, begins every Sunday sermon with an invitation to take a “Grow Pray Study Guide” from the bulletins and use it in their daily prayer. It also comes to them via email and app. We can do the same.
On your “Taking the Next Courageous Step” sheet are ways to bring the Convention back to your communities. You’ll find suggested tools for prayer, in English and in Spanish. If you don’t already have a prayer and scripture practice in place for the Lent and Easter seasons, one possibility is for you to join, with the Presiding Bishop, with me, and others throughout the church in the Good Book Club, o en español el club biblico, a daily guided, prayerful reading of the Gospel of Luke and Acts. There are others resources as well, and one goal for your diocesan staff is to be a helpful curator of such resources.
There’s something else I know about us. We don’t give ourselves enough opportunities to honestly share about our lives and stories of faith and struggles with faith. The hunger to do is everywhere. That’s why I’ve given each of you a pack of “faith sharing cards.” Take them out now, please, so you can read some of the questions. Bring them with you to lunch today, sit down with someone else, or two someones, or three, and answer a few of the questions together, such as this one:
Jesus teaches us to love our neighbor as yourself. Share the story of a time in your life when this was especially challenging. How did you respond?
If you don’t like that one, pick another:
Share an experience when your faith sustained you in a particularly difficult time or when your faith enabled you to help another person going through a difficult time.
How has your experience of Episcopal liturgy brought you closer to God?
Between now and next Convention, I invite all of you to engage in faith sharing conversations using these cards or some other means. Begin your church meetings with a few minutes of one-on-one conversations, asking the person next to you to pick a card and answer a question, and you do the same. Invite people to your homes to share a meal and stories of faith. I have done this at our home and the conversations have been inspiring and uplifting.
If we do these two things in the next year–commit to personal prayer and talking to one another about our faith–I am persuaded that we will be a different church when we gather together in 2019. They are simple, inexpensive, but not always easy. It takes courage to show up each day in prayer; courage to speak of our faith experiences and our struggles with faith, but the transformative potential is real.
As I bring this address to a close, let me express my gratitude for your gift of a three-month sabbatical this spring. I will use the time to renew my life of prayer, spend time with my family, and visit churches (not Episcopalian) within the bounds of our diocese that are thriving, in some cases right next door to us or down the street. I want to get to know our neighbors better, learn as much I can from them, and to share what I learn with you.
Before my sabbatical, I invite all who are interested to join me as I visit our Convention preacher’s church, Mt. Ennon Baptist in Clinton, Maryland on February 28. Pastor Coates and his staff have generously offered to spend time with us and share what they have learned.
I will attend diocesan clergy conference while on sabbatical, because I’ve invited someone to speak with our clergy, Tony Morgan, who has dedicated his life to helping churches move from places of what he calls “stuckness” to a place of sustained health and strategic growth. There is more about him and other learning opportunities in your “taking Convention home” sheet.
My friends in Christ, I hope you know how deeply and completely God loves you, how far Jesus will go to be your savior, companion, and friend. I hope you know how important your offerings are, for without them Jesus has less to work with in this world.
I also hope you know how blessed I am to be among you. I ask your forgiveness for the ways I may hurt or disappoint you; I thank you for allowing me the great honor of service that humbles and challenges me every day. I believe God is leading us to a day when all of us will marvel at the faithfulness and fruitfulness of our congregations, schools, and ministries.
For the past year, I’ve used a particular blessing to close each worship service, and with the same blessing I end this address, inviting you to join me:
Christ has no body here but ours,
No hands and feet here on earth but ours.
Ours are the eyes with which he looks on this world with kindness.
Ours are the hands with which he works.
Ours are the feet on which he moves.
Ours the voices with which he speaks to this world with kindness.
Through our touch, our smile, our listening ear.
Embodied in us, Jesus is living here.
Let us go, then, filled with the Spirit, into this world with kindness.
Watch a video of Bishop Mariann’s Convention Address here.
After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming towards him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?’ He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, ‘Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.’ One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?’ Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’ Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all.Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.’ So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, ‘This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.’
Speaking on behalf all who are here to celebrate and pray with Tim and the people of St. Andrew’s, let me say how happy we are to share this moment with you. You have already committed yourselves to one another and you life together is well underway. But today we gather in public sacrament, as is our tradition, not only to celebrate, but also to create a holy space for God’s grace and power to reveal itself, so that you may go forward from this day with even greater confidence and joy.
The beginning of the relationship between spiritual leader and community is a wondrous time. It can also be emotional and a bit anxious, understandably so, because you all have such hopes and expectations. You’ve taken a big risk with each other, without fully knowing what you’ve gotten yourselves into. There are bound to be a few bumps in the road in the early days, as you adjust and settle in together.
But there is such blessing and important learnings in this first season of ministry, as you hold hands and jump. You know this already. I am here to encourage you in the good work that is yours, as you wholeheartedly craft and offer worship of God each week, commit to growing in faith and in your walk with Christ together; as you raise children and seek to be a place of faith exploration for the young adults at the university and all who work in that great public institution; as you share the joys and pains of life’s passages together, strive to be good neighbors, offer Christian hospitality, service, and advocacy, and share the good news of Jesus.
As you are about all these things, which is the work of the church, in this new season I urge you to pay attention, and open yourselves as widely as you can to the loving presence of Christ in and among you. For no matter how long or how short you have been a part of this faith community, no matter how long or short you have been a Christian, this season will give you new eyes with which to see and new ears with which to hear.
Certainly Tim comes with new eyes and ears. Don’t be afraid of what he hears and sees. And the people of St. Andrew’s will experience you, Tim, in new ways. They will call forth from you gifts and insights that you didn’t know you had, and they will challenge you to grow. This, in part, is what makes a new season in ministry so important. You’re all off kilter a bit; you’re all rookies. Things are stirred up, in a good way, and God is in the mix, inviting you to a deeper faith, a more vibrant expression of Christian community and compelling witness to the Gospel.
So I invite you to engage this time, this moment, this season of ministry with a spirit of joy and adventure. Have fun together. Allow the love of Jesus in, by creating space for new possibilities.
Here’s one possibility: At Diocesan Convention next week, all your delegates and clergy present will receive a deck of cards. Each card has a question to encourage us to share a bit of our lives of faith. For example: Jesus teaches us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Share the story of a time in your life when that was especially challenging. How did you respond? Or, How has your experience of the Episcopal liturgy brought you closer to God? Or, Do you think that faith is the absence of doubt? Share a story about a time you were confused about your faith.
What if you were to begin each meeting at St. Andrew’s with a faith sharing conversation with the person sitting next to you? What might you learn about each other and about God’s presence in your lives? Or consider hosting a series of faith sharing meals in your homes. I’ve done this with people across the diocese at our dinner table, and the conversations are always uplifting and inspiring.
St. Andrew’s, you are blessed to have in your new spiritual leader a man with a passion for this kind of faith exploration and intentional spiritual growth. Allow his gifts and passion to take you closer to Christ in your own lives and to discern with him how Christ is calling you into love and service for others.
This new season affords all of you the opportunity to commit, or recommit to a practice of daily prayer: a few minutes each day in quiet, offering God intentional time and space to reach you in the silence or meditative Scripture reading. If this is new to you, or you’ve been away from personal prayer for a long time, don’t worry. You can do this, and it’s worth it. If you’d like to join with Episcopalians from around the country in this practice, consider taking part in an church-wide initiative this Lent to read, along with the Presiding Bishop, the Gospel of Luke, and then to continue with the Book of Acts during Easter. This initiative is called The Good Book Club. If we all did this together, imagine how God might speak to us.
The early season on ministry is also an opportunity for gentle, courageous evaluation, which is not something we, as Episcopalians, are particularly good at. We seem to have an deeply embedded preference for keeping things as they are. That’s not a bad thing when what we are doing is bearing fruit. But without disciplines of evaluation, we often spend a lot of energy and resources on what is no longer fruitful.
One way to practice evaluation in this early season is to cultivate a kind of dual vision, where you’re paying attention as best you can to what’s happening, and cultivating a larger sense of purpose and calling at the same time. One author on leadership defines this kind of vision as distinguishing what you see when you’re dancing on a dance floor from what you see from the balcony looking down at all the dancers, one of whom is you. The dance floor is his image for jumping right in together for the work at hand; the balcony for the kind of vision you see only from a distance, when you step back, even in part of your mind, as you’re still out there dancing. We need both perspectives, he says. In the first year or two of a new ministry, it’s especially important to both actively engage and save a little bit of time and energy for reflection and evaluation. (Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky, Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading (Harvard Business School Publishing, 2002))
A Methodist minister in Herndon, VA, Tom Berlin, suggests a simple method for cultivating this kind of dual-vision, and that is to invoke what he calls the two most powerful words for leadership: So that. Those who learn to use these two words, he says, will discover a way to clarify the intended, fruitful outcome of every ministry endeavor. (Lovett H. Weems, Jr. and Tom Berlin, Bearing Fruit: Ministry with Real Results (Abingdon Press, 2010))
Let me give you a practical example from one pastor’s experience with a congregation that had for many years hosted a Vacation Bible School. He asked all those gathered to organize the upcoming summer’s VBS to complete the following sentence: Next summer our church will have a vacation bible school so that…
At first very few people wrote anything at all, struggling to come up with the purpose of the Vacation Bible School. At last one person shared what she wrote: “Next summer our church will have a vacation bible school so that the children of our church will experience a vacation bible school.” “Are there other possibilities?” the pastor asked. Another chimed in: “Next summer our church will have a vacation bible school so that our children will experience church as fun.” The pastor’s thought was, “I’m not sure we need a curriculum for that.” After some time and deeper reflection the group came up with this: “Next summer our church will have a vacation bible school so that our children will come to know and love God more and that we will reach children in the community with God’s love whom we have not reached before.”(Story told in Bearing Fruit)
That was a purpose they could get inspired to work to accomplish and invite others to join them. It was also one that could afterwards be evaluated on the basis of fruitfulness: did the children of our church have an experience of love? Were we able to reach children in the neighborhood? If not ,why not? What might we do better next time? For the purpose was no longer to have a vacation bible school. That was a means to an end. If the means no longer served that end, they were free to consider something else. So that helps shift our focus from the activities of our church toward their intended outcome, one that can be measured in terms of fruitfulness.
One final thought for this season of new ministry, taking inspiration from that young boy who stepped forward at an opportune to offer Jesus what he had. In other versions of the same story, Jesus’ disciples are the ones who have only a few loaves of bread and some fish with which to feed a hungry multitude, but the point is the same. When we offer what we have, even if it is insufficient to meet the needs before us, Jesus, in the power of grace, can make the miracles happen. I’ve seen it happen time again. Nothing sustains me in faith more than the experience of seeing what can happen when we step up, step forward with what we know to be insufficient on its own, and trusting that God will act in the space between our offering and what is needed. Those experiences give me hope. They encourage me to be brave. I want the same for you.
So be brave, people of St. Andrew’s. Be brave,Tim. Offer to Jesus who you are and what you have in this moment, in this season, and dare to believe that you are part of something far bigger than you will ever realize. Go deep with one another. Be faithful in prayer. Take time to reflect, evaluate ministry in a spirit of fruitfulness. And have fun! The one who has called you is faithful. Remember that you are not alone. We are all in this holy work together, so that the Episcopal Church we love may take its humble, fruitful place in God’s mission of reconciling, healing love.