2012 Diocesan Synod Address

This is my second address to the annual synod of the Diocese of Springfield as your bishop. In a way, you could say it’s my third, because I did bring a brief word of the greeting to the synod two years ago in Champaign, as bishop-elect. It hardly seems possible that it’s been two years, but I guess, as they say, time flies when you’re having fun. And I cannot begin to tell you how much fun I’m having! Seriously, I am incredibly blessed to be here, with you in central and southern Illinois, doing what I’m doing.

Let me begin by saying just a few things about this past summer’s General Convention of the Episcopal Church. You may know that it’s an utterly grueling and draining endeavor, physically, mentally, and, in many cases, emotionally. So I hope you will take the opportunity, if you have not already done so, to thank those who officially represented us there: Joe Patterson, Rick Velde, Elisabeth Langford, Gerry Smith, Kevin Babb, Archdeacon Denney, Fr Ashmore, Fr Tucker, and Fr Scanlon. There were also several others from the diocese there: in connection with the ECW Triennial, helping out at various exhibits, and otherwise just coming by to take a look, since it was relatively close.

To my relief, there has been very little reactivity in the diocese to the more controversial actions that the General Convention took. This is as I had expected. Those who were of a mind to go seek other pastures in response to the direction that the general church has been taking have, for the most part, already done so. Those of us who are left may not be exactly happy with that direction—though, to be sure, some are—but we believe God has called us to continue to bear witness in the Episcopal Church, in fellowship with brothers and sisters who words and actions are a source of grief to us, but whom we recognize as fellow disciples of the same risen Lord Jesus whom we serve together.

To the faithful lesbian and gay Episcopalians in the Eucharistic Communities of the Diocese of Springfield, and to their supporters, I say this: Your presence among us is welcomed and valued. It gives me no pleasure to disappoint anyone, and I am grieved that the positions my theological conscience compel me to take are felt as unjust, unkind, or wounding. So I need to tell you that, as far as I am concerned, you are neither aliens nor guests in the Diocese of Springfield. This is your home, and you have a permanent place here. I know too well what it’s like to be a theological minority in this church, and when I began to reflect on what I would like to say to you today, I started by asking myself what I, as a conservative, would like to hear from the progressive majority in the Episcopal Church, and it’s exactly what I’ve just told you.

To the majority among us, as I perceive it, who share with me the view that decisions of successive General Conventions have compromised our witness to the gospel of Christ in this culture and fractured the bond of unity among the provinces of the Anglican Communion, let me simply reiterate my commitment to the settled teaching of the Anglican Communion that sexual intimacy outside the context of a lifelong marriage commitment between one man and one woman falls short of God’s intention and will for human behavior. Consequently, clergy of the diocese are not permitted to preside at or assist with blessing liturgies for same-sex couples, and clergy who are partnered with a person of the same sex will not be deployed or licensed to function in the Diocese of Springfield. All that being said, I do implore you to not turn opponents—especially opponents who are outnumbered—into enemies. We have no enemies in the Church, because we have been freed and brought together by our common Savior and Lord, who has given us the ministry of reconciliation. I am pleased to say that I hear little or no demonization of those whose positions differ from the diocesan center of gravity, and I hope I continue to be able to say that.

General Convention did other things, of course, but I’m only going to mention one more. By the unanimous action of both the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops, a rather bold plan for the complete overhaul of the structure of the Episcopal Church was put into play. This calls for the appointment of a small task force made up of people who are presently not involved in any of the governance structures of the church, and therefore theoretically not subject to undue influence from those who presently have their hands on the levers of power and would be motivated by a self-preservation instinct. It will be up to this working group to lay out the broad strokes of a plan, and then convene a special meeting, sometime in 2014, of one bishop, one cleric, one lay person, and one other individual under that age of 35, from each diocese to help them finalize legislation that would presented to the 2015 General Convention in Salt Lake City.

This structural reform process is one that I hope the Diocese of Springfield will participate in vigorously and in good faith. Frankly, while it’s difficult to imagine the outcome being anything that would worsen the Episcopal Church’s steadily weakening position in our society, the truth is, it could happen. And it could also happen that the new structures that emerge will not mesh well with our identity, tradition, and the vector of our missional efforts in this diocese. So there is reason for some trepidation. Still, we will participate as one of 110 “local churches”—also known as dioceses—in a network of accountability to one another that is articulated by the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church. We can be both “players” and, when appropriate, differentiated. So, while there is, as I have said, some reason for trepidation, there is no reason for inordinate anxiety. Let’s pray hard and see what happens.

Now met me move on to something rather more important, and I mean this in all seriousness. Last January, as you may know, I traveled to England in order to take part in an educational program for new bishops from around the communion sponsored by Canterbury Cathedral. Late one evening, after all the tourists had cleared out, we were led on a candlelight pilgrimage tour of that vast building that is the sacramental sign of our Anglican identity, the ethos that has had a hand in shaping each one of us. As we gathered for prayer, standing around the spot where generations of medieval pilgrims literally wore away the stone step with their knees as they ended their own pilgrimage at the shrine of St Thomas Becket, I thought to myself how wonderful it would be if I could lead a group of youth from the Diocese of Springfield to that very place. Well, after sharing this vision with the leaders of our Youth Department, the ball is now rolling for that very thing to take place on the last ten days of June in 2014, about twenty months from now. You’re going to be hearing more of the details about this trip when the Youth Department makes its report, but I want you to know how thrilled I am that we’re doing this, and I hope you will all have my back when I assure the youth of the diocese that no one should be scared off by the cost of this trip, that for those who want it to happen, we’ll find a way to make it happen. Please don’t make a liar out of your bishop!

I hope you have noticed by now that, after a lot of fits and starts, our totally revamped diocesan website is up and running. If you haven’t already done so, please give it a long look. Poke around, explore some nooks and crannies, see what’s there. It still has room for lots of improvement, but it’s a quantum leap forward from what we had before. So use it, and help improve it. Leave comments on the posts—we can do that now!  And if you have responsibility for any area of diocesan program, you can be the one to manage the content on your portion of the site. And we’re now on Facebook as well. So find us and Like us!

Now for the really fun stuff. A year ago I laid out a vision, arising from the work of the Department of General Mission Strategy, of how this diocese can begin to think very differently about the way we pursue the mission that has been entrusted to us. Since then, I have broken that vision open in spirited discussions taking place in parish halls and vestry rooms all over the diocese. In the meantime, we have formed two teams that have been tasked with important components of the implementation of this vision. We’re going to be hearing tomorrow from Fr Tony Clavier, representing the Strategy Resource Team. We also have a Spiritual Vitality Team, whose task it is to lead us in re-evangelizing our own people, and get us connected again with the fire of the Holy Spirit, and there are a number of irons in the fire toward that end. Stuff is happening. It may feel like it’s happening slowly. But if you will indulge me some baseball imagery, we’re playing the “long game.” We’re not throwing money around in the free agent market, hoping to pick up superstars who will take us to instant victory. Instead, we’re focusing on building up the farm system, raising up our own talent, and putting together a winning formula that is sustainable for years and decades to come.

So let me remind you what our mission strategy vision statement is: The Diocese of Springfield is one church, organized for mission into geographic parishes, manifested in Eucharistic Communities and communities-in-formation, with a goal of being concretely incarnate in each of the 60 counties of central and southern Illinois.

Having lived with this and talked about it for a year now, let me offer some choice amplifications of this statement.

First, it bears saying that our primary mission is evangelism. And evangelism is precisely this: Speaking of God’s actions in Christ in such a way that people are led to repentance, faith, baptism, and discipleship in the communion of the church. Not everything we do wears that label overtly. But there is no mission that is not evangelistic. When we do something as simple as give a hungry person a bowl of soup and a piece of bread, we are doing it in the name of Jesus, motivated by the love of Jesus, and we do no one a favor by keeping that fact a secret.

Second, we are all resources to one another. I am firmly convinced that we have everything we need, materially and spiritually, to bring this missional vision to fruition. I spend a lot of time with our smaller churches. They are the ones most tempted to despair, because they’re a few steps closer to the cliff than our larger Eucharistic Communities are. But I have also seen in those places reservoirs of talent, dedication, and spiritual maturity that, if properly connected and unleashed, can be of tremendous benefit to our larger and more urban churches. When I tell people, as I always do, that “the diocese” will be alongside them to help them with the terrifying process of engaging mission in completely unfamiliar ways, I don’t mean the Archdeacon and me! Shawn and I are not the diocese! All of us, together, are the diocese—the “one church” of the Diocese of Springfield.

Now I want to you resist the temptation to let your eyes glaze over as I walk you through an illustration of what I’ve just been talking about!

Re-Evangelization Ministries might raise a question mark. What do we mean by that? What we mean is this: Before anyone can contribute in any way to missionary endeavor at any level, that person must be thoroughly converted to Jesus Christ. That person must be committed to being a disciple. Yet, my observation is that we have a number of men and women who worship regularly in our churches, but who have not come to that point. So we need to be evangelized—to hear and internalize in a fresh way the good news of God in Christ—before we can become an evangelizing church.

Liturgical Revitalization. Worship is at the heart of what we do and who we are. As Anglican Christians, we are the heirs of an outstanding tradition of liturgy and worship. But we get sloppy, and we get unimaginative, and we get easily attached to this or that way of doing things while we lose sight of the larger reality of just what it is we are doing and for Whom we are doing it when we come together to pray publicly. We need to be generously self-critical about the liturgical life of our Eucharistic Communities. I am happy that one step in this direction is a conference for clergy and musicians that will be held in Springfield three weeks from now.

These two areas come under the purview of the Spiritual Vitality Team, though I am for the time being taking a personal interest in the liturgy component.

Demographics. Now we’re getting really strategic. As we respond to the call of Jesus for laborers in the harvest, it helps to know where the crops are, which ones are ripe, and how to harvest them most effectively. In other words, we need to do our homework. To that end, the diocese has subscribed to a service you may be familiar with called Percept. It can supply some impressive demographic information about all sixty of the counties that lie within the geography of our diocese.

Then comes the hard but energizing work of discernment in our Eucharistic Communities. Each one needs to learn how it has been uniquely gifted, what it is collectively most passionate about, and weave that information together with the demographic data. The result of the process, we hope (!), will be a strong sense of vocation, and a concrete plan of action for missionary engagement.

These two pieces of the puzzle fall under the oversight of the Strategy Resource Team. The members of that team are developing step-by-step processes and procedures that will be adapted and applied in each of our Parishes, not imposing something from on high, but working alongside that actual people in our Eucharistic Communities.

Also, out of this work, will come the eventual establishment of parish boundaries, as we organize ourselves for mission in central and southern Illinois.

Lay Ministry Formation. None of this comes easily or naturally. It is in a different solar system than any of us are familiar with. So nobody needs to be a free-lancer. The diocese—that is, all of us together, with our varying gifts—will be there to provide training and formation for our baptized lay people—baptized people of God—who will involved in various ways with missionary endeavor. We have not yet formed a team to oversee this ministry. That’s a work in progress.

Implementation Consulting. This speaks for itself. We need to develop a core of coaches and consultants who can become temporarily or periodically incarnate in our parishes and assist them with the execution of their mission plan. These consultants and coaches need not come from within the diocese, and I’ve actually had some interesting conversations with people from outside who are excited enough about what we’re doing to consider helping us out in this way.

There’s a lot more that I could show you, but I think that’s probably just the right amount.

Finally, and at the risk of lapsing into my parish hall stump speech, the single most challenging issue for all churches today is the rapid secularization of our society. We may think that sexuality is the big issue, but it’s not. While we’re busy tearing ourselves apart over sex, the earth is quaking under our feet and fissures are opening up, and unless we get real familiar with the map of our new world pretty quickly, we’re just going to get swallowed up, and all out fussing over sex will be meaningless. Here’s the thing: the end of Christendom—the centuries-long era in which Christianity held a privileged place in western society—the end of Christendom can either be our worst enemy or our best friend. If we deny it, or simply resist it with pugnacious anger, it will sweep us away like a tidal wave. But if we exploit it, and turn the very energy of secularization toward the ends of the gospel, we can plant the seeds in our generation of a resurgence of the church of Christ that will call to mind the early Church’s conquest of the Roman Empire inside of 300 years. None of us will live long enough to see those seeds germinate. But we do have an opportunity to be found faithful in our generation, and know that God has used us to advance his project of redeeming a fallen universe. And I ask you, What could be more fun than that?

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