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Diocesan Convention Address 2014 – The Right Reverend Thomas C. Ely
My Convention Address begins with an expression of gratitude. Feel free to sing along. (Play YouTube of John Rutter’s: Now Thank We All Our God (Watch the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Z2_JLqOjNY)
I begin with one of my favorite hymns. It captures so well the overwhelming feeling I have as I return from a rich and full sabbatical.
There is so much for which to be grateful as I look back over the past four months.
There was my time in Israel-Palestine during the Gaza conflict of this past summer; and my “summer camp” experience with the Jerusalem PeaceBuilders Leadership Camp in Brattleboro, about which you will hear more tomorrow;
There was my travel to three different dioceses of The Episcopal Church to ordain three bright, young, talented priests who have come through the ordination process in Vermont and are now serving in the Dioceses of Los Angeles, Long Island and Michigan. (I think of them as part of our missionary program);
Then too there was my participation in the Kids4Peace International Summit in Massachusetts, along with eight other folks from Vermont;
I will long remember the travels with Ann to Taiwan, Japan and back to Taiwan and the many discoveries of mission and ministry in a part the world about which I was eager to learn, including a powerful trip to Hiroshima;
I had the chance to re-connect with Donna Hicks, one of my sabbatical mentors, to reflect upon the theme of Dignity, which was the lens through which I looked at many things during my sabbatical. Donna is the author of a book titled “Dignity: Its Essential Role in Resolving Conflict.” I invite all of your to read this book and see what conversations it may spark in your congregation and your community.”
I had the gift of time with family, friends and various golf courses around Vermont;
There was my Retreat time with the brothers at the Society of St. John the Evangelist, a monastic community in Cambridge, Massachusetts, near the end of my sabbatical, as we watched and waited and prayed for our bother and friend Tom Shaw, recently retired Bishop of Massachusetts and an SSJE brother, as he ended this life and entered the next with confidence in God’s goodness and love. He was a good friend and colleague and I miss him dearly;
And, perhaps most important of all, I value the time this sabbatical provided to rest, renew and refresh from the demands of a ministry I deeply love.
Words are not sufficient for me to express my gratitude for the gift of this sabbatical time, so let it be enough for me to say “thank you.” Thank you for the gift of time away, for your prayers, your support and your welcome home.
Of course, while I was away others continued their ministries here with great faithfulness and devotion. I am especially grateful to the members of the diocesan Ministry Support Team and especially to Canon Lynn Bates for taking on the added responsibilities that accompany a Bishop’s sabbatical. Did you know that on April 17, 2015 Lynn will celebrate 20 years of service in ministry with the Episcopal Church in Vermont? Please join me in thanking her and all the members of the Ministry Support Team.
I also want to thank the good folks who are part of our Convention Planning Team this year, under the leadership of the Reverend Carole Wageman. They, along with the Worship Team, the Dispatch of Business Committee, the staff at Jay Peak, the various exhibitors, and all the volunteers serving among us these days contribute so much to our Convention experience. When I told some bishops at the House of Bishops meeting that my sabbatical ended the day before our Diocesan Convention, many looked at me with amazement as if to say, “Are you nuts? Are you really going to trust all that to others?” I said, “Absolutely!” Thank you one and all!
My deep appreciation also goes out to our special guests and presenters: My colleague (and Mentor for my 2007 sabbatical) Bishop Ian Douglas, 15th Bishop of the Diocese of Connecticut; Province One Executive Director, Julie Lytle, a colleague for many years now; and Sharon Ely Pearson, Christian Formation Specialist from the Church Publishing Company and (oh yes) my cousin! Each of these special guests brings gifts and perspective that help enhance our understanding of what it means to be a more missional church during this challenging time. I thank them for being here with us and helping us think about our own formation for participation in God’s mission in that changing church and world.
Tomorrow you will hear from three others who help us connect our missional work to the more global context: The Reverend Christopher Hingley is the Overseas Ambassador for the Petra Schools in Zimbabwe; the Reverend Lisa Ransom, (One of “our own”) is co-chair of the Vermont Chapter of Kids4Peace; and the Reverend Nicholas Porter, who is Co-Founder and Director of the Jerusalem PeaceBuilders Leadership Camp. We give thanks for their ministries and presence among us. Welcome.
Shortly before beginning my sabbatical I shared some thoughts with you about the Episcopal Church in Vermont embracing what it might mean for us to become more “missional.” Actually, the way I framed the question was “What do we need in order to support and sustain a more missional Episcopal Church in Vermont for the next 5-10 years.”
By Missional Church, I mean a body of people equipped through worship, study and fellowship to go out into the world of our daily life to live and participate in God’s reconciling mission. It is a question I left with you and carried with me on my sabbatical.
I understand and acknowledge that for many this concept of missional church is quite “new,” but at the same time it is very “old.” The work of the Church has always been “missional,” as Bishop Douglas and others have been reminding us today. That “missional” work began with Jesus and those called to be his disciples. What is perhaps “new” in this for us is the understanding that being missional means we are both a gathered and a sent community.
Most of us understand that we are called to serve. What may be new is the appreciation that we are called as well to open our eyes and ears with the confidence that God is already at work in the world. It is for us to discover that work and join ourselves to it. We are called to discover what God is already up to in the world, “in the neighborhood,” to borrow the phrase from the title of Alan Roxburgh’s book that many of you have been reading, entitled “Missional: Joining God in the Neighborhood.” I invite those of you who have not already done so to read and discuss the book.
To my way of thinking, the theme of our Convention: “Equipped for the Journey: Formation for Mission,” continues a journey we have been on together for nearly 14 years now. It is a journey deeply rooted in the seeds of our understanding and practice of Baptismal Ministry and Baptismal Living that have been part of the focus of my ministry among you as Bishop. You and I have explored and continue to explore various themes and ideas of Emergent Christianity, The Great Emergence, or what Alan Roxburgh calls “The Great Unraveling.” One might say it’s an invitation to think about being the Church in a new way.
Remember those folks who in recent years have encouraged and helped us think about the Church in new ways: Folks like Anthony Robinson, Phyllis Tickle, Brian McLaren, Emily Scott, Tom Bracket, Titus Presler, Stephanie Spellers, Michael Curry, Sean Lanigan, Dwight Zscheile, Ana Hernandez, and our own Stirrings of the Spirit and Alleluia Fund leaders. And now we can add Ian Douglas, Sharon Pearson, Julie Lytle and Christopher Hingley to our list of encouragers.
And don’t forget Bill McKibben, Stephanie Johnson, our Earth Stewards Committee and ministries like Rock Point, Mission Farm and Church of the Woods with our colleagues in New Hampshire, and others who call us to see our connection to all creation as an integral part of what it means to be a missional church.
In my pre-sabbatical reflection on the calling of the seventy in the Luke Gospel (chapter 10), I suggested that our work together is rooted in the challenging word Jesus spoke to his disciples: “GO!” Just as those first disciples struggled to find ways to listen to and respond in love to those around them, we are called to be that kind of listening and responding community today right here in Vermont. God in Christ is calling us to “GO!” just as He did to those first disciples.
As a part of our continuing effort to discern our connections and common ministry as a Diocese, I asked for three studies to be conducted, separately but contemporaneously. I believe collectively they afford us an opportunity to take stock of our common life together at a critical time in my episcopacy.
First, I asked Christine Graham, of CPG Consultants, who conducted the 2011 Capital Campaign Feasibility Study, to take the pulse of the diocese with regard to the issues that were raised in that feasibility study – issues that were then presented and discussed at the special Diocesan Convention in June 2011. She conducted phone interviews and launched a diocesan-wide survey to solicit input for her follow up study. The work that Christine did confirms that we have made significant progress in addressing many of the issues that were identified in 2011. I am encouraged by that.
Second, I asked the Reverend Craig Smith, recently retired Rector of Trinity, Shelburne, current President of the Rock Point Board and the newly appointed Rock Point Development Minister, to focus his efforts on the future mission and ministry of the Rock Point property in Burlington. Financial and infrastructure realities continue to challenge us in our efforts to embrace the full potential of this valuable property that has been part of our Episcopal life and story since the time of Bishop Hopkins in the mid-nineteenth century.
In truth our common commitment to Rock Point has sometimes waivered and there are certainly differences of opinion about how best to include this resource in our future. Still, my hope is that we can develop a vision and plan for the future that we all can embrace – one that is both realistic and achievable. Craig’s work is far from complete, but already some good things are emerging about the importance of partnerships (internal and external) and some ways we might improve our governance structure at Rock Point.
Finally, I asked Del Glover, a retired business executive with extensive diocesan and Church-wide experience, to consult with me in areas related to funding our mission, the personnel needed to support that mission and the institutional structures that shape and serve our common life. As part of Del’s consultation he has conducted individual and group interviews with over a hundred people.
I wanted, from Del, information leading to recommendations on income and expenses, organizational restructuring and personnel configurations needed to help the Episcopal Church in Vermont realize and sustain a balanced budget and an effective organizational structure for 2016, and beyond, as we seek to be a more Missional Church. Understand, I am not interested in a budget-driven mission. I hunger for a mission-driven budget.
Christine has sent me her report and I met briefly with both Del and Craig earlier this week. As you can imagine, there is much to digest and there are more conversations planned for the future. I am pleased and proud of the way you have welcomed the efforts of Del, Craig and Christine, especially during my sabbatical time. I think each brings important gifts and perspectives that will help us become more missional.
As I re-engage from my sabbatical I will invite some key leaders to help shape a process that will connect this good work to a wider diocesan audience. Together, we will determine specific ways of moving forward with the information these three consultations have discovered and shared. My plan is to schedule a series of regional Town Meetings around the diocese this winter, during which I can share and test with you some specific recommendations before final determinations are made in collaboration with the Diocesan Council. These steps will lead to a diocesan-wide gathering next June where I hope we can celebrate together some good things about the missional direction for the Episcopal Church in Vermont and our future together.
I have good energy for this discernment work in the months ahead. At the same time I want very much to continue deepening my focus on Dignity as an essential component of all we do. The more I work with Donna Hicks, the more I am convinced that the call to be a Dignity Agent lies at the heart of the Gospel. Jesus was, and is, the ultimate Dignity Agent.
That focus, around which I have much passion, will inform the commitment I’ve made to work with others in addressing issues of economic justice, poverty and income inequality in our State and Country. It has enlivened my commitment to strengthen Kids4Peace Vermont and connect more deeply with Jerusalem PeaceBuilders around the complex issues related to Peacebuilding in our world. It will undergird my commitment to work with our Earth Stewards Team and others on issues of sustainability and environmental justice on “this fragile earth, our island home.” And it will be at the heart of my commitment to work together with all of you and the people of our diocese to strengthen the life, witness and ministry of the Episcopal Church in Vermont for a long time to come. Together, we are the Episcopal Church in Vermont!
Speaking of that future, I hope you are mindful of the fact that this Convention is the 224th Convention of the Episcopal Church in Vermont, meaning next year at this time we will celebrate 225 years of ministry as the Episcopal Church in Vermont. The first Convention of the Episcopal Church in Vermont took place in September, 1790 in Arlington.
Representatives from Arlington, Sandgate, Manchester, Pawlet, Weathersfield, Dorset , Hinesburgh and Tinmouth were present. The Rev. Daniel Barber read prayers and the Rev. James Nichols preached a sermon.
As I think about that history and what it means for us to be equipped for mission in our day and time, I am again profoundly grateful for the faithful witness, vision and commitment of those leaders who gave birth to the Episcopal Church in Vermont. Theirs is a legacy we are called to honor and build upon. My hope is that our celebration of this 225th anniversary will not simply be a nostalgic remembrance of the gift our ancestors in the faith gave to us, but rather a celebration of renewal and recommitment to the Gospel challenge to go into the neighborhoods, villages, communities, towns and cities of this State and discover what God is up to and connect our lives and ministries to the signs and wonders of God at work in our midst.
As we continue our journey mindful of our Lord’s admonition to “travel light,” I want to share some thoughts and words I received in a homily during my sabbatical retreat at SSJE. The preacher was Brother Luke Ditewig and his text was from the beginning of the 4th Chapter of the Letter to the Ephesians: “Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” Brother Luke focused our attention on this text by inviting us to remember what it means to be members, by grace, of God’s family: connected to one another; no longer strangers without hope but with equal access to God; beloved children of God; welcomed at God’s banquet table; welcomed to rest in God’s arms.
He reminded us that Grace is beyond big. It is boundless. And, in the truth and spirit of that we are called to lead a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called. His word of encouragement was to “lean in” to “go deeper” to “let grace saturate our lives, infuse how we interact.”
“How?” he asked. And turning to the text he replied, “With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Brother Luke’s counsel to us was to “Lift others up; See the holiness of each person; Learn to wait and stick it out; Listen with compassion; Be attentive to difference; and practice mending fences.” That sounds an awful lot like embracing the Dignity call of Donna Hicks.
Brother Luke ended by reminding us that “grace isn’t for safe-keeping.” “Grace is for becoming.” “Love leads to action.” “Love shapes interaction.” He invited us to remember how grace has touched us, welcomed us home. “From gratitude,” he said, “consider the people with whom you are placed. For it is most evident in community, in the one Body of Christ, that grace seeks to saturate, further shaping us.”
As we continue to ponder our own formation for mission in this challenging time, I invite us to embrace Brother Luke’s counsel as a core value and practice in our life together as the Episcopal Church in Vermont. I think that from such devotion will come many graces that will strengthen us for the life to which God in Christ has called us. With grateful hearts then, I invite us together to lead a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called.
I end my Address, with another song. As many of you know, I have a very warm spot in my heart for the song, “This Little Light of Mine,” and I actually think it is a great reminder to us of our call to be more missional. So imagine my surprise and delight when we arrived at Saint James Church, Taichung, Taiwan to learn about the ministry of this remarkable Episcopal Church and were greeted in this way by the children of their Kindergarten. (Watch the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mf38eY2IApU)
It is good to be back home with you.