2022 Bishop’s Address

The Diocese of Springfield
145th Annual Synod – 2022 Bishop’s Address

There was a time that we walked everywhere. Whether the journey be short or long, we followed paths that were clearly laid out and most often than not, led us to our home. Walking was not a burden. It was an opportunity to be something in-between where we were and where it was we were going. When we walked together, we were on a journey. As a second grader, my younger brother, older sister and myself would walk home from our Episcopal day school. Sidewalks were cracked and uneven. While remaining together, we each navigated the challenges effortlessly.

As we passed homes dressed in our school uniforms, there were encounters that were a great deal more than simple recognitions. These were people, known and unknown, who ensured that we made it safely from where it was we were to where it was we were going. They knew our Father, they knew our mother, or at least knew that we were not suppose to act the fool or wander off the desired path. A simple “hello” or “how was your day?” was the means of passing through their neighborhood on our way to an intended holiness. It was the means of recognizing a community standard that fully intended to envelop us, protect us, and influence us as we simply passed along our way.

I share this memory as an observation of what once surrounded us. Important to that experience were the large and generous front porches that each and every home depended upon to make the private public and the public private. These places of intended respite served a most important purpose. They not only cooled the temperature of the interior, they also brought the priorities of the family out into the public. Front porches were once the meeting ground where radical hospitality was shared with those who have no idea they are thirsty. Not quite the living room, it was a great deal more than the front sidewalk. Front porches invited you in without having to convey an intimacy reserved only for the immediate family.

These are images of which many in the Midwest can relate. I would argue that the Diocese of Springfield has an appreciation for such welcome and hospitality because we have an innate sense of place that is sacramental rather than simply practical or functional. Coming out to meet and welcoming others onto the porch is a location that is needed now more than ever. It is needed because in our desire to protect ourselves from the rage of the Covid-19 pandemic, we closed churches and told the faithful that what we have been for centuries is now not essential. Holy Eucharist was regaled into the same category as a spectator sport, and we closed the doors on those Christ himself came to redeem: not when we were at our best and well, but when it was we too were sick.

My comments are not intended to criticize those of us who had to make very difficult decisions with quite limited information. In March of 2020, I remember planning for Easter services concerned only over having missed a haircut. We put our lives on hold for a time in order to “flatten the curve.” Then, things became political. Sadly, with doors closed, the Church was not present to hold-up the moral and spiritual compass. In other words, if church does not matter, what’s the point?

Suffice it to say that jurisdictions must take evacuation orders seriously to the point of having a reentry plan already in place. That is the crucial piece that was missing from all church closures in 2020. Before I go any further, please allow me this moment to thank all of our clergy who remained faithful to their vocational calling of being before altars. I have heard over and over again how it was the candles were lit, the prayers were offered, Holy Word was read aloud and the benefits of Holy Eucharist were called down from heaven above into the midst of empty churches. The isolation was damaging to us all, no more so than to our children and our clergy.

Before we can take on other priorities, we must concern ourselves and our congregations with being the Church again. The Church is entrusted with a spiritual health rather than a physical health. The sisters of St. Mary’s Convent and the Martyrs of Memphis died during the Yellow Fever pandemic of 1878 because they were concerned over the dying not knowing the incarnate presence of our Lord Jesus Christ. They ran in while others fled to higher altitudes as the means of escaping the mosquitos.

I think of their witness to the Faith when passing by some of the 19th-century cottages dotting the university landscape of Sewanee high up in the Cumberland Mountains of Tennessee. Those with the means fled to higher altitudes in order to escape the mosquitos while those without means fell utterly dependent upon Holy Mother Church alone . . . she was there to minister to their needs. Doors remained open with the healing touch of sacramental grace. So wide open were those doors that the nave of their cathedral and cardinal parishes wereturned into infirmaries, hospitals and morgues.

This is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (II Corinthians 4:16-18)

Our reentry plan must include being an incarnational faith once again. The people of God gather around Word and sacraments. We become one with Christ as we become one with each other. In person worship is an oxymoron. We cannot allow a secularized world to bring their nearsighted definitions to our altars. Like all family gatherings, we teach truths in rite and ceremony. Holy Mystery, mission and stewardship cannot be conveyed virtually. Why? Because these are physical responses to spiritual realities. Our’s is a kingdom that has come, is here, and will come again.

Please help me in returning to a time and a place when the technology was not the message. We are an Incarnational faith. We gather as one Body in interest of hearing God’s holy word and breaking one loaf and sharing one cup. Where two or three are gathered together, the Christ of God will be in the midst of them. It is time to take inventory of when and how it is live video streaming is used and to what end. I had a Roman Catholic funeral director share with me how she once logged onto Facebook live for the Sunday Mass and continued that encounter in her pajamas while giving her children their bowls of cereal and starting two loads of laundry. There is enough in the world inviting sacrilege. I believe God can be offended.

Our worship is intended not to give us what it is we want, but to give God what it is He wants. We will be living with various strains of Covid-19 for the rest of our natural lives; there will be vaccinations and boosters each and every cold and flu season. However, the pandemic is over. The Diocese of Springfield is not a police department nor are we the parents of your children. If precautions are needed to be taken, please take them. However, we will not stop being the Church that Christ Himself came to build.

Many of you have shared how it is the succeeding generations have little to no idea how to be hospitable or
welcoming toward those who are meant to complete us. If you think I’m wrong, ask a 29 year-old to leave their smart phone at home. Invite a 33 year-old to linger at the dinner table over empty dessert plates simply to expound on the family story. Expect a 15 year-old be without technology while on a mission trip to Appalachia. If we can get them into sacred time while navigating the expectations of sacred space, then God will have His way with them.

Technology is a good thing, but not at the expense of our being human beings and the redeemed of Christ. Not at the expense of sitting with our widows over a sweaty coffee cake and hearing of their late husband’s career with the phone company for the umteenth time. We do not abbreviate church anymore than we can abbreviate our promised inheritance. Those who have not the capacity for Holy Eucharist have not the capacity for eternal life. We have it under pretty good scriptural authority that salvation unto life eternal depends upon us getting this relationship right. This must be the year that churches are open and the faithful are brought into the right attitude and posture for worshiping God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Not by dialing it in, but by submitting ourselves before the throne of God’s grace and mercy. It matters that we present ourselves before altars in the right way. Our children are watching.

The Diocese of Springfield has 33 parishes, missions, or chapels. We are considered one of the smaller diocese of the Episcopal Church. I truly believe that it is time to school the rest of the church in how it is to be good church. How to be faithful, true and bold rather than clever, enlightened, and living above the need for the cross of Christ. Let them catch us on our knees before his footstool offering ourselves, our souls and bodies to His great glory and on behalf of the world He came to redeem. Our historic churches are perfect in size when it comes to being at capacity once again. They also in their reverent beauty communicate a theology that is not being taught any place else. If popular culture shouts out for anything from the Church it is right relationship with God and a tradition that teaches that particular righteousness to their children. The great social experiment with permissiveness is coming to a close. A romance with orthodoxy is emerging once again.

The Book of Common Prayer has evangelized entire continents and civilized even the most savage of souls. I believe its better days are now here. Please allow the prayer book to speak. Please allow its well paced silence to have dominion over us. What is baked beautifully into the mix is how God still has a Word for His people today. The challenge is being quiet long enough to be part of that sacred encounter and dance – to be able to dream the dreams of God. Our prayer book is like a 360 year marriage, it is all that we say and do and are once we hear the words, “I love you.” There is a cadence, there is a pace and there is an expectation placed over us. Forever and to the end.

I shared with a few of our reverent clergy recently how central air and heat has stifled evangelism. Largely present where it is the people of God live, Episcopal churches once stood proudly with windows and doors wide open. And because they were, entire communities learned a particular reverence because there was no hidden secret as to what it was we were up to and what it is we are about. The sound of beautiful Hymns once made it down the street inviting those who have no regard for God to “come and see.” Our presence and voices once sanctified entire communities and some would even argue, the entire week.

Now, I’m not advocating for a return to the 19th century. Believe me, being a boy from Southwest Florida, I have a deep seated appreciation for central air. But there is an image there that invites us to be those who can exist between what is public and what is private, what is communal and what is intimate or between the natural and the supernatural. There are entire lives and relationships that cry out for an existence that is holy – who simply need an invitation to come up onto the porch and rest awhile.

What I am advocating is that every one of our congregations, chapels and communities of fellowship exist under the same priority as a diocesan cathedral. Every single one! Each of us represents the whole of the Diocese and the completeness of the Church. Elegance, success, growth, taking calculated risks, and a right attitude toward good church is not the exclusive property of just the well resourced. All that we do, all that we say, and all that we teach matters.

Plan a program for six people as if you were expecting 30. Visit the hospital even on days you know of no one being sick. Approach the altar of your local parish as if you were standing before the altar of Westminster Abbey – because in the economy of common prayer, you are. Be careful, be good stewards, but consider how it is we will never be able to cut ourselves to prosperity. Not in a country that spends 100 billion dollars a year on our pets. Make the ministries and opportunity for worship worthy of your own participation. You wouldn’t sing in the choir? Fund it to the level of your participation. The ushers are a rag-tag bunch? Fund that ministry to the level worthy of your participation as well.

The secret to evangelism is that we never run out of God’s grace. What we have to offer is infinite – it never runs out. Fear breeds frugality. Stop being so frugal that you starve the children. You can’t afford an organist? You can’t afford not to have an organist. You don’t have enough children to start a Sunday school? Prepare the room anyway, pour the juice and then turn it over to God. But prepare the room as if the children of the royal family are expected to participate – because they are! God alone will grow his church. The invitation and expectations are to His honor and glory, not our own. You are the cathedral of the Diocese of Springfield where it is you live and move and have your being.

Years ago, Bishop George Councell of New Jersey asked his regional deans to read the book A Fly in the Ointment: Why Denominations aren’t Helping their Congregations. It was written by J. Russell Crabtree a Presbyterian pastor. I don’t remember vivid details except for one. That detail was how churches are like libraries when it comes to meeting the expectations of those we are called to equip and serve. Those we serve, and feed and nurture and educate and care for fully expect the books to be shelved in the right order. Decades ago, there was a great deal of attention given to churches (and libraries) for simply “shelving the books.” Now, there is little to no recognition for the books being shelved in the right order and in the right manner. We get no credit for what is expected of us.

Once we have the books shelved, we then take steps toward other invited offerings, such as an education series, a particular invitation for pronouncing God’s blessing over a civic priority or endeavor, or even a community outreach that tutors children after school. Crabtree’s point being, if you’re not proficient at what it is your are intended to be, then the ancillary offerings will fall not only on deaf ears, but into the well maintained abyss of chaos.
The expectation is that a Eucharist will be offered on every single Sunday and on Major Feast days of the Church Calendar, the expectation is that confessions will be invited and heard, the expectation is that the church will be a place of constant prayer and intercession, the expectation is that those in nursing homes will be visited, and the expectation is that we will catechize our children in the right way. The expectation is the that Daily Offices are being read.

The expectation is that the sacristy is in order and the memorials of the people are being cared for as they are brought forward as an example of right stewardship to those who follow us. The expectation is that you should be able to walk into the local tavern on the town square and ask the bartender where the Episcopal church is located, and he or she will be able to tell you without picking up their phone in interest of searching Google.

We will never be able to out coffee Starbucks or out pancake IHOP restaurants. We will never be able to out Rotary our community Rotarians. We will never be able to out entertain our children in this over intoxicated age of YouTube, video games and Netflix. Planning a well orchestrated mission reach is difficult, but it matters. Purple in Advent matters; the retiring of the paschal candle after the [Whitsunday] Mass matters; immovable appointments such as font and ambo matter; and maintaining our sacred spaces in the right manner matters. I have been invited to gender reveal parties and high school graduation parties that rival what we once offered for the solemn Mass at Midnight on Christmas Eve. We give our time, talent and money to that which we love. I ask that you love your church to the point that you don’t ever want to turn your gaze . . . to the point of being inseparable.

Once we are assured that the books are being re-shelved in the right way, then I invite you to reach further into our communities life never before. Be bold and take calculated risks that make those who are watching hold their breath. Why? Because each reach we make is into the kingdom of God. I can be more specific: We are the agricultural center of the world. Plan now to welcome the entire agricultural interest of our communities on the Rogation days of our calendar this year. Extend the well crafted invitation to circle the church with tractors, combines, tillers, wagons and threshers (is there such thing as a thresher?). Plan a service of Evensong and bless each farm implement in interest of sanctifying what it is they do on behalf of the rest of us.

Have window decals made that each farmer displays in the window of each implement reminding them of the church’s blessing and continuing prayer. Encourage children to bring their own wagons and toy tractors. We’re talking Evensong, a bucket of holy water, vestments that are already in our sacristies and a stack of stickers that will cost no more then $50.00. We’ll send you the PDF of the Diocesan shield if you want to incorporate that into the design. Where do we start? We start by sitting down with the president of our local Farm Bureau. We’re the Church. We’ve been given a mission, and we have been given an evangelical voice. The president of the Farm Bureau is expecting you to call. If you ask, they may even pay for the stickers.

All of this is of course intentional, risky and it leaves us vulnerable. Hanging over our heads is the possibility that we may fail in our attempt in a public way. We may even make a spectacle of ourselves for wanting the kingdom to come now, on earth as it is in heaven. And that is fine because is that not the mystery behind the cross of
Christ? We may even bring glory to God by awakening an entire community and a whole new generation to their responsibilities before God.

The farmers who light up the far reaches of our parishes and missions at night may plant the seed, but they know that the growth and abundant harvest belongs to God alone. They may currently be attending free-evangelical churches, but they are sacramental at heart. Whoever said that we exist for those who fill out pledge cards alone. We exist for those who are meant to complete us and have not arrived as of yet. The liturgy belongs to the living; it is presided over by those who walk acres of parched soil while looking to the skies and praying for rain. They understand Holy Mystery. Plan now!

The four Rogation Days of 2023 are Sunday, May 14th (which happens to be Mother’s Day) through Wednesday,
May 17th. Make me drive from parish to parish and church to church without sleep over those four days in order to meet the demand of the people to be set apart for God’s particular use. Expect that town squares and parish properties will be surrounded by farm equipment. We are that church, we are that bold, and we are that expectant. Why? Because we live into the Victory of Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Church has long understood and taught how it is Theology stands out as the Queen of sciences and her voice should be the last word, the final arbitrator when seeking God’s revealing of himself in Truth. The Church once stood as the sole trustee of all intellectual property to include advances in medicine, navigational charts, astronomy, agriculture, scientific knowledge, and even economic principles. This Diocese owes no apology for wanting to take its place at the very center of our communities. To be the final arbitrator among those who are constantly at the mercy of nature and her laws.

The budget that Diocesan Council has approved is based on the premise that every priest, deacon, and lay leader of this Diocese are to be considered missionaries and congregational developers. We are not at the point financially of being able to fund staff positions at the Diocesan level that delegates these God-given responsibilities to another. And to that, I say, “thanks be to God.” Let the rest of the Episcopal Church find us with dirt-encrusted hands; with sweaty brows; and with no time (or money) for the intramural sport of politics, either in the Church or in our congregations.

Churches that are truly involved in the mission field are too tired, too focused, and too strapped financially to concern themselves with tomfoolery or manufactured conspiracy. If you find yourself with discretionary time, or money, please call me. The church is in great need of both. Or, as my mother would say to all three of her children, “If you have nothing better to do, then I’ll find something for you to do.” Years ago a “you’re in my pew” parishioner called to turn me into my bishop. The charge? Too many baptisms in one day. On the Day of Pentecost, Whitsunday, we had seven baptisms and that was two too many, or so was her complaint. Those are the calls I want to field.

With that in mind, we have worked over the last five months to re-establish the Department of Mission. This is one of three departments of our Diocesan Council that reports directly to the Bishop. I have appointed Postulant Dan Shuler from Salem and Father Mike Clark of Robinson as co-chairs. They have been charged with inviting forward Communities of Episcopal Fellowship in six areas of our Diocese that have no Episcopal Church presence and that most likely have the population and projected growth expectations to sustain such a witness.

We are not talking bricks and mortar. We are not talking about finding temporary quarters in an abandoned strip center with no way to pay the rent. We are talking about week-night gatherings around shared casseroles, common prayer, well-planned mission priorities, and then gathering at the nearest Episcopal Church on Sunday because that is what sacramental Christians do. They continue in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers; whether that happens to be convenient or not.

Already, we have three baptized, confirmed communicants of parishes that want to join the two co-chairs in seeing what response there would be in such areas as Petersburg, Williamsville, Pana, Vandalia, Effingham, and Taylorville. I believe we can and should be surprised. Each one of these parish leaders is a magnet when it comes to evangelism. Meeting within the homes of believers is how the church started in areas where there was no church. If we start with six and three pan out – then we do it again in a couple of years and expect the same if not better results. We have to do something. The Diocese of Springfield is now once again in the business of opening churches. We begin with people, lives, stories, healing a broken world, and the dreams of God.

These communities of Episcopal fellowship are encouraged to be inviting and bold and hospitable (and perhaps even a bit competitive one to another). They will be asked to shelve the books well (or at least the magazines in the periodical section) by becoming quite proficient at praying the prayer book offices and reaching in to anoint a hurting world.

Expect to see invitations strategically placed for movie nights, game nights, designated outreach collections, father/daughter dances, and Anglican Communion Trivia nights. On Sundays and Major Feast Days, the expectation is that each makes their Holy Communion together before the altar of the nearest Episcopal church because they are first and foremost in fellowship with the Christ of God. Be careful what it is you ask for . . . we may not recognize the make-up of some of our existing congregations a year from now.

Financially, I intend to live extremely lean during the next fiscal year. We are establishing a culture that questions the need of every Diocesan expenditure. We save binder clips and we brown bag our lunch time together. We will not stop being the Church. However, I would rather see parishes and missions benefit from investing in ministry where it is they live rather than send it to Springfield only to be passed back out again. Growth is going to come from where it is corporal works of mercy are being lived. Among other priorities, we feed the hungry, we visit the prisoners, and we bury the dead. We bury the dead as if salvation unto life eternal depends upon it, because it most certainly does.

In addition, Diocesan Center clergy to include myself do not receive honorariums or benefit in any way monetarily when being with you. Your annual assessments and the investment income of our Diocese is intended for this purpose. Rather, tell us what it is you are doing in interest of increasing participation in weekday worship, extending your outreach into our communities or exciting hospitality within and around our congregations. Tell us when it is the lights are on rather than extinguished. Tell us of when the parking lot is full rather than empty. The Bishop’s Discretionary Fund is the preferred way of showing your appreciation. Even if small steps are taken we are growing rather than decreasing. And to that end, it is God who is greatly glorified.

I would be gravely remiss if I did not thank you and your Diocesan leadership for such a tremendous invitation and transition, all in interest of our future as a Diocese. As we have shared with congregations over the past five months, Denise and I truly do believe we are home. We are breathing Easter air and learning what it is like to represent the prayers and interests of such a respected diocese of the Episcopal Church. You are known, appreciated and respected on so many different levels and for so many different reasons.

The manner in which the Nomination Committee, Standing Committee, DiocesanStaff, Cathedral Chapter and Transition Committee went about the challenging work of calling and seating your next Bishop is to be emulated. Each and every phone call, email, text message and direct encounter was quite spiritual in its nature with the expectation that we behave as it is we believe. Their focus on the mission of the Church and the promise of a yet more glorious day brought out the very best of me as a priest while giving praise and glory to the Prince of Peace. From the very first introductions, this Diocese was presented as the very Bride of Christ that she is. As I look out among you, I am quite humbled that you reached for my hand and that together, in this place and this time, we are wedded.

I can’t imagine having gone through the process of waiting for standing committee and House of Bishops consents without the support, encouragement, and wisdom of Bishop Paul Lambert, your assistant bishop during the interim and transition. Denise and I made a habit of walking four miles each night through city neighborhoods as the means of remaining focused, burning off nervous energy, and offering our intentions to almighty God. Many of those nightsBishop Lambert would go with us via our cell phones. It was as if his large, strong, generous, loving arms were wrapped around us both. And they were.

Over the last five months we have all been through an abrupt modulation with new Diocesan staff in a renovated Diocesan Center on behalf of a new era of administration, mutual accountability, shared ministry and evangelism. We are the most resourced, educated, and technologically advanced civilization ever known in the history of the world. We have bread, we have wine, we have water and we have Holy Scriptures. Our celebrated history makes us dignitaries while our promised inheritance makes us royalty. Walk with your eyes up and wide open. We have everything we could ever need. Remain constant in prayer, take risks for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, cast down your golden crown of a particular politic or social construct and let me catch you celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

The commission remains the same: we go unto the world making disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. (Matthew 28:19) Let’s not make it any more complicated than that. Call me with the problem of carpet rotting and hardwood buckling around the base of our baptismal fonts due to excessive use and constant spill over. I envision a day when the Episcopal Church bureaucracy sends spies like Caleb and Joshua in order to find out what is going on in Springfield; why it is we are so focused, and why it is we can’t be distracted from our mission. Not to our glory, but to the glory of almighty God.

Thank you to Canon Mark Evans, Ms. Erin McCrary, Mr. Rod Matthews, Mr. Mark Dirksen, Mrs. Hanna Dallman and now Mr. Zachary Bucher for their direct contribution to our success. Erin McCrary, thank you for jumping in so capably only four months ago and ensuring that this Synod, along with a myriad of other immediate priorities, were so well organized and administered. You are a precious gem in the crown of this Diocese. We intend to support you, celebrate you, and continually give thanks to God for you. With the talent and dedication of our entire diocesan staff and volunteers now with us, it would be most appropriate to offer the short prayer, “Lord, bring us now success.”

Every day of the week realizes a true outpouring of our Diocesan staff’s combined professional level offering on our behalf. I must arrive early in the morning and stay quite late into the evening just to keep up with their talent and their dedication. Their sacrifices are to be emulated. Having benefit of their servant leadership, we are those who are encouraged mightily to remain true and bold and to fight as those who nobly fought of old.

Thank you to our regional deans for their leadership and overall contribution to our success. At the top of my initial to-do list was a reminder to meet with them. The pace and the geography and pressing demands of the immediate soon became a challenge to meeting that priority. We see each other and have benefit of their leadership during Diocesan Council meetings. Even though not formally introduced to them as a group, I am more than confident in their vocational wisdom and the priority they hold for lifting up those around us.

There is no better place in all of Christendom than the Diocese of Springfield. We are here now. We exist under the command, commission and authority of Christ Himself. Although historians will want you to believe otherwise, there has never been a time when being a disciple of Christ was easy or well funded, or socially accepted. If not us, then who? If not now, then when? I have a retired bishop friend who is want to say at dinner as we linger over empty dessert plates and cups of lukewarm coffee, “People are dying and going to Hell, let’s get to work.”

Indeed, let’s get to work.

Our past is to be celebrated, the present time deeply appreciated, and the future embraced now for all the benefits it will truly bring us, but here at the threshold to the kingdom of God, before our altars, with hair dripping wet from having passed through the baptismal font, and in the consecrated presence of each other.

So, I believe the imagery of the expansive and far reaching front porch fits our particular Anglican identity and it is an image we need to return to once again if we are going to attract those who continually walk by and admire the house that Christ himself has built. And because everyone is Anglican at Christmas, let me close leaning upon the words of a favorite carol, a carol that I was taught at the age of seven because no one ever told me that it was too difficult to sing:

I’m weary with my former toil,
Here I will sit and rest awhile:
Under the shadow I will be,
Of Jesus Christ the apple tree.
This fruit doth make my soul to thrive,

It keeps my dying faith alive;
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the apple tree.

Thank you for the great privilege of serving as your twelfth Bishop. You are my spouse, and I will do all in my power to have and to hold; to love and to cherish, in sickness and in health, and to protect your sacred honor.
Lord, bring us now success.

The Right Reverend Brian K. Burgess
XII Bishop of Springfield
October 21, 2022 *feria

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