The bishops of The Episcopal Church met from March 8-13 at Kanuga Conference Center in Hendersonville, NC for a time of Retreat and conversation with one another. The theme for our gathering was Godly Leadership in the Midst of Loss. Our time was punctuated with daily reflections from several bishops around this theme, followed by time for table conversations, personal reflection and open time for conversation and activities with one another. Daily prayer and Eucharist framed our time together in the prayer of the Church.
On Friday March 8th Bishop Suffragan Laura Ahrens of Connecticut offered a meditation on Godly Leadership in the Midst of Acute Loss, reflecting on her experience with the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. On Saturday Bishop George Councell on New Jersey offered a meditation on Godly Leadership in the Midst of Natural Disaster as he spoke about what he experienced and learned as a result of Hurricane Sandy. At the Sunday Eucharist Suffragan Bishop Ogé Beauvoir offered a meditation on Godly Leadership in the Midst of Chronic Loss, as he reflected on the ongoing challenges and struggle in the Diocese of Haiti. Monday brought us a meditation from Bishop John Tarrant of South Dakota titled Godly Leadership in the Midst of Emotional Loss, focused on the history, heritage and current day realities of the Lakota people. Tuesday’s meditation, Godly Leadership in the Midst of Personal Loss, was offered by Bishop Jon Bruno of Los Angeles and centered on his own personal experiences of loss.
Each meditation offered not only a reflection on loss through a particular lens, but also an expression of the powerful presence of God in the midst of loss. Beyond that, each reflection offered personal stories that spoke to the exercise of leadership in the midst of loss, as well as to the grace, hope and love of God each bishop has experienced. These meditations drawn from the reality of each bishop’s own experience of loss provided a catalyst for each of us then to share with one another our own stories of loss and how those experiences have shaped and influenced our own lives and ministries. I was most grateful for the opportunity to reflect on many experiences of loss in my life and ministry, including: experiences from my years working in Appalachia; experiences of the loss of loved ones in my own life, as well as in my 32 years of pastoral relationships as a priest and bishop; our experience in Vermont following Tropical Storm Irene; and loss related to issues of violence, abuse, human dignity and the environment.
Another thread running though our time together was our attention to the matter of violence in our society and especially the issue of gun violence. Those conversations led to the offering of a Word to the Church. I commend this to you and invite our further conversation about how we in Vermont can best respond to this reality.
I am grateful for these times to gather with other bishops and to be fed by our worship together, by our conversations and by the collegiality we share. I come home refreshed and renewed, strengthened and supported, for participation in God’s reconciling mission with the people of Vermont.