Watch video of Bishop Ely’s address, or read the text below:
We gather this weekend in the power of the Holy Spirit as members of a community of Christian disciples, part of the “Jesus Movement,” (thank you Bishop Curry!) known as the Episcopal Church in Vermont. This identity is part of our missional DNA, and has been from the very beginning, even before that first Convention of the Episcopal Church in Vermont held in Arlington in 1790, the 225th anniversary of which we remember and celebrate at this Convention.
We have been changing, adapting, innovating and improvising since those colonial times. Churches have opened, closed, re-opened, moved, merged and through it all the spirit of the people of the Episcopal Church in Vermont has remained faithful and resilient. Every time we have felt the Spirit moving in our hearts we have prayed and done our best to respond to God’s missional invitation.
This current season of missional renewal in our life is no different. We can and we will respond to God’s call to mission on this the dawn of our next 225 years! So, I remain most grateful for these past 15 years in which I have been privileged to serve as your bishop and share in the life of this diocese, its congregations and people. And I’m not done yet!
That Spirit of God was certainly alive and moving in us at the Washington National Cathedral last weekend as we welcomed and installed my friend and colleague, Bishop Michael Bruce Curry, as the 27th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. I hope you were able watch as he called us to our baptismal identity as part of the “Jesus Movement,” and encouraged us to live fearlessly in the grace, power and love of our God who has already overcome the world. I hope that same Spirit is moving in our hearts this weekend.
Jazzed About God’s Mission, was selected as this year’s Diocesan Convention theme, because I wanted to continue our focus on God’s mission and our “Becoming More Missional” journey. I find this compelling metaphor especially appropriate for this season of our life and discipleship together.
The Reverend Dwight Zscheile in his book, The Agile Church, which many of you have read (and all of you should!), uses the jazz metaphor when talking about Improvisation as one of the “Disciplines of a Learning Church.” Contrasting the leadership models of the classical orchestra and jazz musicians for today’s world and church, Zscheile writes: “Jazz offers a better metaphor. Jazz is less about executing a pre-determined script than it is about improvisation, whose Latin root improvisus means ‘not seen ahead of time.’”
He says, “Jazz is about learning while doing, embracing imperfection, trying things out, and pushing boundaries – but all within shared structures and patterns. It is about collaboration and accompaniment, freedom and innovation. Jazz is built on shared expectations and commonalities; the basic structure of a melody, rhythm, or song. These minimal structures provide the groundwork for improvisation. Jazz is fundamentally social, a collaborative effort among several musicians, and in so doing it creates space for a certain amount of autonomy and self-expression. Jazz only works (and I love this part) when the musicians engage in ‘generous listening’ – ‘an unselfish opening to what the other is offering and a willingness to help others be brilliant as possible.’”
It is this both/and understanding of “innovation grounded in tradition” that I want to hold up as the creative tension that can inspire and guide us as the life and witness of the Episcopal Church in Vermont continues to unfold. In jazz parlance, this is the practice of improvisation in the context of structure, and I invite you to hold this metaphor in mind as we move through and beyond this Convention.
Today I want to focus on three topics related to the “Becoming More Missional” consultation process in which we have been engaged, culminating with the June Convocation at Trinity, Rutland that many of you attended. But before I get to those items let me offer several expressions of gratitude.
First, a huge thank you to all who make our Convention possible, including our Cathedral – its gifted staff and welcoming members; the members of the Dispatch of Business Committee, Diocesan Council and the various Convention Officers; the diocesan Ministry Support Team for more work than you can imagine; Mark Kalbfleisch and his team who help us with all our audio-visual needs; Kathleen Moore for her Communications Workshop today and the introduction of the Asset Mapping Project that will help us see and share our many local ministries on the ground; and last, but not least, all those who brought ministry displays to help deepen our awareness of God’s mission throughout Vermont and beyond. Thank you all very much!
Next, please join me in expressing thanks to our special Convention guest, the Reverend Gay Clark Jennings, President of the House of Deputies of the Episcopal Church, and a friend and colleague to many of us here in Vermont. Gay is offering us the full measure of her time, energy, wisdom and passion for God’s Mission and the Episcopal Church she dearly loves (most of the time). Thank you President Jennings!
And, thanks to all of you for the gift of your time, interest and commitment to our common life as the Episcopal Church in Vermont. Among my many hopes for our time together is that you will leave feeling fed and better equipped for your participation in God’s mission and your ministry at the local level, and that you will bring back to your local faith community what you learn and experience here this weekend.
I also want to offer a special word of appreciation to one of the many very special people in the life of the Episcopal Church in Vermont. By my best reckoning, 2015 is the 20th year anniversary of Tom Little’s ministry as our Diocesan Chancellor! Tom served as Deputy Chancellor before that and in many other leadership capacities since then on the local, diocesan and church-wide levels, not to mention his distinguished ministry in daily life as an Attorney and Legislator. Lesson One in new Bishop’s School is make sure you have a good Chancellor and pay attention to what he says! I believe I (and we) have one of the best in the Episcopal Church today. Thank you Tom for your friendship and faithful service!
I turn now to three key elements (three melodies, if you will) of our missional future, all of which flow from our “Becoming More Missional” consultation process. The first melody inviting our harmonies, alterations and improvisations is what the Diocesan Council is calling “Local Mission Approaches,” as expressed in their Convention resolution under the same title that we will consider tomorrow.
Since my earliest days as a priest, one of my most repeated mantras has been “Ministry is the consequence of baptism.” I am grateful to my mentor, friend and former Rector of Christ Church, Montpelier, the Reverend David Brown, for this expression. It describes well for me the significance and truth of baptism and its relationship to God’s mission. “Ministry is the consequence of baptism.”
The primary setting of that baptismal ministry is local. Local in the sense of our daily life and local in the sense that most ministry is rooted in and always tied back to the local faith community in which we are nurtured, nourished and sent forth each week to “love and serve the Lord.” It is also true in our Anglican/Episcopal tradition that this emphasis on local is always understood in relationship to the more than local – our affiliation with Bishop and Diocese.
This “both/and” understanding about mission and ministry was clearly reinforced for me in the “Becoming More Missional” consultation process. It has always been true for me, and especially in my ministry as a bishop, that one of the most important components of diocesan ministry is the support and encouragement of ministry at the local level –where the “rubber meets the road” as the saying goes. That has been and continues to be the guiding principle (the steady jazz base line, if you will) of my ministry and that of the members of the diocesan Ministry Support Team.
Under the leadership of diocesan Treasurer, Wallace Good, and your Diocesan Council, we have made adjustments to our Diocesan Budget and personnel in an effort to be more responsive to and supportive of local mission and ministry approaches and opportunities as we seek to turn our focus outward in mission. For 2016, this includes changes in the makeup of diocesan Ministry Support Team, one feature of which is an expansion of our communications ministry. And here, let me once again express my appreciation to the Reverend Susan Ohlidal and the Reverend Angela Emerson for their faithful and effective ministries as members of the diocesan Ministry Support Team.
The 2016 Diocesan Budget also reflects another significant change we have made in support of local mission and ministry. This change is reflected in the resolution from Diocesan Council supporting the articulation and implementation of what we are calling “Local Ministry Approaches” in each of our 46 congregations over the course of the next two years. This is very much about the missional call to move more deeply into the neighborhoods and communities where we “live and move and have our being” and discover and respond to what God is already doing. This, as Bishop Curry reminds us, is the Galilee of today – the places where Jesus has gone before us and where we will meet the living Christ, even as it was promised to those first witnesses of the resurrection.
Members of your Diocesan Council have worked faithfully to craft this resolution in response to the sacred conversations that were part of the Rutland Convocation this past June. The sub-committee literally reviewed every recorded word, and from that determined to make this the centerpiece of our effort to name, share and support the local ministry approach of each congregation. Council shifted $45,000 in budgeted resources to support this priority.
As the resolution recognizes, congregations are at different places in their capacity to articulate and implement their “Local Mission Approach.” Some are far down the road and others are less so. This resolution does not judge where any congregation is along that spectrum, but rather commits to supporting each congregation along this journey into the Galilee of our world today.
Mixing metaphors, but in the spirit of the jazz metaphor, this resolution does not offer a roadmap, but rather a compass. The true north of that compass is every congregation’s capacity to name and implement the best local approach to mission and ministry possible, given its unique local context. With tools, such as Appreciative Inquiry and Asset Mapping, the Bishop and Council can and will support you in that effort. We remain firm in the belief that faithful and effective local ministry makes for a faithful and effective Episcopal Church in Vermont. I invite you to read the explanation section of the Council resolution to get a fuller sense of how we understand this effort.
Let me say one more word on this subject. Local outreach, especially the many efforts in response to poverty, hunger and homelessness in communities across Vermont is very much in sync with this initiative. In many cases those are the very ministries that move us to discover in greater depth what God is up to in our neighborhoods and communities, and provide us with increased opportunities to witness to our faith and confidence in Jesus Christ and the reconciling mission for which he gave his life. The same can be said of the many global ministries in which we are engaged.
In addition to those efforts, I believe we need to increase our awareness of and attention to the root causes of economic injustice, income inequality, environmental justice, racism, bias on the basis of gender identity and expression, violence in its many forms including gun violence, and other expressions of social unrest and injustice, locally and globally. Our faith communities and buildings need to be known as places of sanctuary and welcome, places of hospitality and healing, places of compassion and justice. The church is at its best when we honor the dignity of all and when we model our compassion and engagement with the world of which we are a part on that ultimate dignity agent, Jesus.
We can and we will improvise, try on, and no doubt sometimes fail in an effort to let the world know who we are and whose we are as disciples of Jesus Christ. I’m ready to go there with you and support you as you go there in the power of God’s Spirit moving in your hearts, and minds, and hands and feet.
There are people in our communities hungry to be part of a compassionate, caring, loving community of people who are seeking to make a difference in the world today; hungry to be welcomed and accepted as beloved children of God; hungry to be introduced to this “Jesus Movement.” The Episcopal Church in Vermont can and will be such a community in which people discover their spiritual home.
The second key melody flowing from the “Becoming More Missional” consultation is taking a comprehensive look at how we fund our mission. In the consultation process, we heard clearly that this area of our common life should receive added attention. In response, I have named the Funding Our Mission Task Force, comprised of twelve lay and clergy leaders, along with Canon Lynn Bates, Diocesan Treasurer Wally Good and myself. The team has a broad mandate to “jazz it up,” and is charged with examining the various components of our diocesan budgetary, grant and loan processes to determine what changes of a fundamental nature – what harmonies, alterations and improvisations – would be useful to assure the optimal carrying out of our participation in God’s mission at the local, diocesan and Church-wide levels.
This work will include a review of the mutually agreed upon formula, enacted by Diocesan Convention, for determining the canonically required contribution of each congregation to the common diocesan operating budget, often referred to as “the assessment.”
The work will include a review of the various grant and loan programs administered by diocesan entities, such as the Bishop Butterfield Loan Fund, the McClure Discovery Grant Initiatives, the Stirrings of the Spirit Initiative, and the use of funds available to the Bishop, including grant money from the Virginia Hunt Trust Fund. It will include a review of our use of restricted and unrestricted investments at both the diocesan and local levels to fund our participation in God’s Mission, as well as various financial appeals, such as the Alleluia Fund annual appeal.
The goal is to be transparent, comprehensive and responsive to the current realities, challenges and opportunities we face in the faithful use of our financial resources, and to help us sing new songs. At the same time, my hope is that the biblical witness and wisdom of generosity, abundance and stewardship will guide our work. The work of the Task Force is to take place between now and next year’s Diocesan Convention, offering recommendations to the Bishop, Diocesan Council and Diocesan Convention. Please pray for the work of this Task Force and its members.
The third element, or melody, of our missional future flowing from the “Becoming More Missional” consultation process is the future of Rock Point. There was significant energy, interest, and yes passion, around this song, this component of our common life and ministry during the consultation process and at the June Convocation. So let me hum a few bars for you as you imagine some of the harmonies, alterations and improvisations we might bring to this beautiful tune called Rock Point!
As we sit here in this our Diocesan Cathedral, less than two miles away there is a property we own that is the largest open space remaining in Burlington today. It is a strategic missional location welcoming over 10,000 people each year. It is home to hiking trails open to the public, community gardens, our diocesan offices, the Rock Point School, the Bishop Booth Conference Center, the Rock Point Summer Camp and the residence of the Bishop of Vermont since the time of Bishop Hopkins in the early 1800’s.
You own a piece of that Rock! That’s right, you own a piece of that inheritance and legacy. And the question before us is our faithful stewardship of this resource and how will we best use it in service to God’s mission now and for generations to come.
For fifteen years I have done my best to shepherd efforts aimed at creating a sustainable future for Rock Point amidst some challenging realities. In these past two years that effort has seen considerable progress, which delights me beyond words.
In the pre-Convention Journal there is a comprehensive and engaging report prepared by the Reverend Craig Smith, Rock Point Board President, to which I call your attention. Craig has also served as Development Minister for Rock Point these past two years, thanks to a grant I received from the Hunt Fund.
Craig’s good work has enabled us to move forward on many fronts that are highlighted in that report, including a clear and compelling vision and mission statement, the development of a comprehensive Land Use Plan involving over 40 people, a sustainable Forestry Plan, the creation of the Rock Point Intentional Community, the strengthening of the relationship among the residential partners on Rock Point, as well as relationships with the many partners from the wider community who value and connect with the vision and mission of this sacred place.
A renewed governance structure has been established. A Rock Point Commons Budget is in place. Our Solar installation is producing more than 100% of the electricity we use on Rock Point. The future of both the Rock Point School and the Rock Point Summer Camp looks bright. Sustainable energy, gardening and environmental education projects are thriving. A long term plan for the development and conservation of the property is emerging. Future staffing needs and capital improvement projects have been identified. And, we are about to embark upon a major fundraising effort to place the future of this ministry on solid ground.
One very exciting aspect of the fundraising effort will be the outright purchase of the Solar Installation at the end of 2016, as per our original agreement with All Earth Renewables. When that is accomplished (with your help) an additional revenue stream of up to $50,000 will be available to support the vision and mission of Rock Point.
We’ll hear more about Rock Point tomorrow. I say all of this here to highlight the accomplishments of these past few years, as well as remind us of the fact that Rock Point is a missional resource and a ministry of the wider Episcopal Church in Vermont. It is your ministry. It is our ministry together. Each and every congregation, each and every member of our diocese is a stakeholder in this ministry. In a reflection paper I wrote earlier this year about the relationship of Rock Point to the wider mission of the Episcopal Church in Vermont, I included these words:
“…… Rock Point is a ministry of the Episcopal Church in Vermont. Rock Point School is a ministry of the Episcopal Church in Vermont. The Bishop Booth Conference Center is a ministry of the Episcopal Church in Vermont. The Rock Point Summer Camp is a ministry of the Episcopal Church in Vermont. The Solar Installation is a ministry of the Episcopal Church in Vermont. The Bishop’s House and the Diocesan Office, both of which are currently on the grounds of Rock Point, are ministries of the Episcopal Church in Vermont. Our partnerships with and hospitality toward others on the property of Rock Point is a ministry of the Episcopal Church in Vermont.
Each ministry may have different histories, different emphases, different foci, different personnel, different budgets and different organizational systems but they are all ministries of the Episcopal Church in Vermont.”
I really believe that, and I believe more and more of you and others throughout our diocese believe that, and are embracing that belief with confidence and a better appreciation for the place and future of Rock Point in the life of a mission oriented Episcopal Church in Vermont.
If you have never been to Rock Point, please come and be introduced to this beautiful place – your inheritance and your legacy. If you have not been to Rock Point in some time, please come and see what’s new. If you want to take on a bigger role in the jazz ensemble that is Rock Point, then come join the band! Please speak to Craig Smith if you would like to know more about visiting Rock Point or getting involved with any of our ministries there.
Perhaps you have noticed by now that the principle melody upon which I have built the harmonies, alterations and improvisations of this Convention Address is the song I have been singing for several years and that will be a constant tune throughout this Convention and beyond.
That melody is “Together we are the Episcopal Church in Vermont.” One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, One Mission! The mission we are individually and collectively called to serve by virtue of our baptism is the reconciling mission of God. This is a mission of divine love made flesh in Jesus the Christ, so that we might know what that love looks like in person. Our common mission as the Episcopal Church in Vermont for over 225 years now is faithful participation in God’s mission, and today in our 46 current communities of faith spread across the State of Vermont.
Local engagement in that mission anywhere is part of our corporate identity everywhere. We need each other. So let’s challenge ourselves and each other to respond to God’s missional call. Let’s let our Episcopal Church light shine!
We can and we will draw strength from each other. We can and we will learn from each other. We can and we will bless each other. We are an incredible jazz ensemble playing and singing God’s love song for all the world to see. So, look to your right and left. Look in front of you and behind you. Look across the aisle and across the room and see who is playing this wonderful music of love with you. And then give thanks to God for all of it. I know I do. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!
The Right Reverend Thomas C. Ely