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June 2011, “June 4-5 will be an important weekend in the life of our diocese.”

Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to God from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen (Ephesians 3:20–21).

June 4-5 will be an important weekend in the life of our diocese. Keep reading to the end to find out why I think so.

Saturday afternoon we will gather in Special Convention at the Cathedral to discuss the recent Capital Campaign Feasibility Study Report conducted by Christine Graham, the consultant working with the Diocesan Capital Campaign Discernment Committee (CCDC). Delegates will debate and vote on a proposed resolution from the CCDC. More details are included in the June edition of the Mountain Echo and all the documents related to this matter can be found here.

Saturday morning in Burlington, and again Sunday afternoon at Trinity Church in Rutland, we will welcome among us Anthony Robinson, author of Changing the Conversation: A Third Way for Congregations. He will offer a seminar focused on the importance of clarity and passion about our mission during these times of cultural and institutional change in our life and ministry as the church. All members of our diocese are invited to attend these presentations.

As I engage the conversation with others about our future mission and ministry here in Vermont, I hear much passion and also much concern. Important dimensions of that conversation for us as local communities of faith and as a diocesan community of faith include the relationship between the two (the local and diocesan) and how we will move forward in the midst of the “sea changes” in the cultural, economic, social and religious realms of our lives today, changes that Anthony Robinson and others describe so clearly. What is changing is the contextual reality in which we are trying to be the Church, the Body of Christ, both locally and as a denomination. As Robinson and others help us understand, we are “swimming in a new sea.”

Understanding and embracing our call to participate in God’s reconciling mission in the 21st century post-modern, post-Christendom world of global economics, climate crisis, on-demand communica-tions, breakthrough scientific discoveries and the myriad of cultural, political and religious clashes around the globe is serious and challenging work. World hunger, poverty and disease, along with “natural” and human caused disasters of epic proportion continue to call us to a life of compassionate response to those in need.

We hear of a deep spiritual hunger in the lives of our friends and neighbors, and yet our churches are not the places where they turn for nourishment. The changing racial, ethnic, and religious face of America calls us to a new awareness of “the other,” and yet we seem ill prepared for that ministry. In Changing the Conversation, Anthony Robinson reminds us that this “change” we are experiencing is “not about us” in the sense of something we did or didn’t do to bring it about. He also reminds us that it is “all about us,” in the sense that it has everything to do with how we respond.

Our experiences of these changes and challenges can lead to a multitude of emotions ranging from fear to fatigue, from anxiety to apathy, from confusion to caution. That is certainly understandable. And yet, it remains at the heart of our calling to be an Easter people, a people attuned to the promise of new life. We are called to embrace a different “way,” a different range of emotions: joy, hope, possibility, trust, faith and grace. The resurrection “command” is, “Do not be afraid!” We are called to be brave, to be bold, to be confident—not in our own might, but in the power of God, which “working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.”

I heard a story the other day, set in the context of a rural area in the western United States. The story centered on some migrant workers in a pig slaughtering operation and the leaders of a local church. The migrant workers were being exploited by the bosses of this operation, who underpaid them and even forced them to buy their lunch from the company-run kitchen rather than allow them to bring their own lunch from home. Sanitation concerns were cited as the reason. The church leaders were good folk but totally unaware of the plight of these workers. A few of the workers did quietly attend the local church, but they never stayed very long and never really joined in the life of the faith community beyond Sunday morning.

Following the arrival of a new pastor, things began to change. The pastor and two of the lay leaders reached out to these workers and began to get to know them more. Bit by bit, and ever so slowly, they began to hear the workers’ stories and the conditions of their employment. The circumstances came as a revelation to the church leaders.

Over the course of several months, and as more of the workers began coming to church, they together organized an effort to approach the slaughter house bosses and seek changes in the working conditions. After several failed attempts, and now with the backing of the entire congregation, they were finally able to get the owner’s attention, and a small concession was won—the workers could bring their own lunches from home. At one level it seemed like such a small victory to the church leaders, but what it meant to the workers was that they were now able to keep more of their paychecks and use the money for other needs. And with this small victory they were given hope that other things were possible.

The church members were also changed and now understand better the economic realities of their community and some of their neighbors in a totally new way. The person from whom I heard this story is a member of that church, where several of the workers are now also members, and he’s pretty sure that they have only just begun their Easter work together!

I believe God is calling us, in our local faith communities and as a diocese, to be an Easter people of hope, joy, new life and possibility here in Vermont and beyond. As God’s community of love, and working together in service to God’s reconciling mission in the world, we can indeed “do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.” And, that is why I think June 4-5 is an important weekend in the life of our diocese.

The peace of the Risen Christ be always with you,

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