Diocesan Convention Address – November 4, 2016
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Those words from the fourth chapter of the Luke, in which Jesus is reading from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, offer a compelling vision for our participation in God’s mission as the Episcopal Church in Vermont. Or, as Presiding Bishop Michael Curry would refer to us: “The Episcopal Church in Vermont branch of the Jesus Movement, called to share in God’s loving, liberating, and life-giving mission of reconciliation and transformation of this world from the nightmare it often is into the dream God intends for all.”
There is another way we can express this missional focus, and that is with two small and powerful words: Love Heals. Many of us have spent much of the day engaging this year’s convention theme with our special guests from Thistle Farms: Becca Stevens, Susan Sluser, Phyllis Greer and Rachel Goldzweig, who are part of a community of women healing from prostitution, trafficking, and addiction. From the mustard seed inspiration of one remarkable women, an incredible enterprise of hospitality, healing, hope and empowerment has blossomed and flourished as a living witness to the truth that, “in the end, love is the most powerful force for change in the world.”
Earlier today, we were also privileged to welcome folks from several Vermont networks and social service agencies engaged in loving, liberating and life-giving work with women and families; addressing issues of poverty, addiction, abuse, violence and human trafficking. The tireless work and powerful witness of these dedicated people provides an inspiring and hopeful example for us, the Episcopal Church in Vermont, as we seek to live a more mission oriented life in our local communities and beyond.
My deep gratitude, and I hope yours as well, goes out to all these inspiring leaders and to Dean Finan and the Convention Program Committee – Auburn Watersong, Jenny Ogelby, Peggy Mathauer, Rick Taylor, Hilla Damm and Janet Brown – for organizing this important chapter in our formation as disciples of Jesus Christ.
I stand before you for my 16th Diocesan Convention Address, very aware, as I know you are, that we face one of the most challenging times for the church as we “seek to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.” I know we take this baptismal promise seriously, and yet we live in a world, and more particularly in a State, that is increasingly wary, often apathetic and at times hostile to institutional religion. That, I see, as both a challenge and an opportunity. In this Address, I want to highlight four ways in which I see us being transformed so that we might faithfully engage God’s reconciling mission and be active agents of God’s healing love.
The first instance of transformation is the recent work of the Funding Our Mission Task Force. At first mention, you might not think of this work as part of our reorientation toward a more faithful and effective engagement in God’s reconciling mission, but I do. The second interim report from the Task Force is posted on the diocesan website and many of the Task Force recommendations will be integrated into our business session tomorrow. So, for now, I simply note these things concerning grants and loans, clergy and lay compensation and the parish assessment formula.
Beyond the funds in the Diocesan Budget for mission and ministry, the Diocesan Council oversees the distribution of over $200,000 in grants each year, as well as the 1.4-million-dollar Bishop Booth Loan Fund. The Funding Our Mission Task Force recommended and the Diocesan Council adopted the establishment of a new Grants and Loans Committee, responsible for reviewing all grant and loan applications and awarding funds from all sources. Think of it as one stop shopping. There will be one simplified grant application and one loan application. Canon Bates will work closely with this new committee, which I am in the process of appointing and which Diocesan Council must ratify. The Task Force also recommended and Council approved the creation of a new grant fund, using income from $500,000 of the Butterfield Loan Fund invested in the Diocesan Unit Trust. Currently, there are sufficient resources to deal with loan requests so this is a good and timely use of resources to support local mission efforts. Both initiatives should be in place by the first of the year.
The Funding Our Mission Task Force also recommended changes related to compensation, and in the formula used to calculate the support congregations provide to the Diocesan Budget. Diocesan Council accepted those recommendations and the 2017 Diocesan Budget, the budget resolution and the clergy compensation resolution on our agenda tomorrow reflect those changes. Details about all this and the recommendations from the Task Force are provided in the pre-Convention material. You will also see these items highlighted in the narrative budget video tomorrow. I am very grateful to the talented members of the Funding Our Mission Task Force for their creative and visionary work on our behalf. So that’s the first transforming process to note.
The second way in which I see us being transformed is the priority named by Diocesan Council, affirmed by Diocesan Convention last year and embraced by the Funding Our Mission Task Force. That priority is to help congregations articulate and implement their “Local Mission Approach.” You will hear more about this tomorrow, but the heart of this priority is to understand that “Mission is God’s process at work.” By that we mean “The Church does not have a Mission. God’s Mission has a Church.” The re-orienting, or transforming, of our self-understanding as a community of disciples sent into the world as agents of God’s mission lies at the heart of this call for Local Mission Approaches that are relevant to each local context, its challenges and opportunities.
Week after week, we gather as communities of faith for worship, formation, shared fellowship and support. We gather to meet Jesus in Word and Sacrament, to know Jesus more deeply and fully. And, week after week we are sent in the name of Jesus into the day to day living of our lives as followers of Jesus with the opportunity of joining ourselves more fully to the loving, liberating and life-giving mission of God already underway in the world. The intention to articulate and implement Local Mission Approaches is all about seeing what God is up to in our neighborhoods and responding to the missional opportunities we see. Tomorrow, you will hear some stories about this pattern of discipleship, inspired by the Gospels, and the brilliant opportunity it offers to embrace baptismal ministry and baptismal living in all its fullness. This second sign of transformation is to see ourselves joining God in the work God is already doing.
The third sign I see is our stronger commitment to the ministry of communication. As part of the Becoming More Missional Consultation completed in 2015, we identified the need and desire to expand our diocesan communications ministry, both internally and externally. At the same time, we made changes in the structure and personnel of the diocesan Ministry Support Team to respond to the recommendations of the consultation and provide the necessary resources to enhance this ministry. Earlier this year, we hired Maurice Harris as our full-time Communications Minister and he has since hit the ground running.
Before saying more about Maurice’s work and the priority of communication, let me take this opportunity as a segue way to recognize all the members of the diocesan Ministry Support Team, each of whom in their own work and ministry contribute much to our common life and serve as valuable components of our communications ministry: connecting us to one another and providing information and resources. Many of you know some of these people, but let me name them so you can join me in thanking them for their dedicated work on behalf of the Episcopal Church in Vermont.
- Canon Lynn Bates, who serves as my trusted sidekick in all aspects of our common life, including her highly effective ministry of assisting congregations in times of clergy transition.
- Julie Giguere, the “go to” person who deals with all things related to our finances, property, insurance and a host of other administrative matters.
- Michelle Sandul, our Office Administrator, who manages our data bases and other information technology, and provides valuable support to committees, commissions, boards and networks for their electronic and face to face gatherings, and much, much more.
- Susan Kremer, who serves as my Assistant, and tries to keep track of me, keep me on task, manage my calendar and respond to the myriad of matters that cross my desk, via hers.
- Donna Crabtree and Taylor Vaughn, who share responsibilities as Office Assistants, Receptionists, and a host of other administrative duties from filings to mailings to welcoming people to Rock Point. They do it all!
- Elizabeth Allison, who serves as our volunteer Archivist and Historiographer, assisted these days by Alice van Buren, and who not only knows where all the bodies are buried, but who buried them and why.
Please join me in thanking these dedicated colleagues with whom it is my privilege to work.
Back now to Maurice Harris, our new Communications Minister. Maurice is continuing and building upon the great work of Kathleen Moore, who left her position as part-time Communications Minister for Seminary late this summer. [She’s doing very well, by the way.] Under the Maurice’s leadership, the ongoing focus of our communications strategy is to both increase our internal communication with the Episcopal Church of Vermont, and to increase our ministry of evangelism by our external communication.
If I had to choose one word that describes this focus of our missional church activity it would be the word “story.”
Tomorrow at the Eucharist we will sing a hymn, familiar to many of you, in which we sing these words:
Tomorrow, however, we will be singing some new and powerful words set to that same tune. These words, in fact: “I love to tell the story; the story changes things; it challenges the powers; it whispers, thunders, sings! It births the holy presence in moments of surprise; it heals, empow’rs and strengthens, it opens ears and eyes. I love to tell the story of Jesus and his glory, because it is God’s story of justice, peace and love.”
And these: “The church that lies before us is not the church of old; the changes in our culture demand new vision bold. One path for being Christian in this post-modern age lies through our storytelling—our ancient heritage! Rejected from the quarry, this cornerstone of glory: to tell the new old story for ages yet to come.”
And these: “I love to tell the story of God’s amazing grace. The Gospel gives us courage for all the tasks we face: to bind the broken hearted, to give hope to the poor, to free all those held captive, to help the weak endure. I love to tell the story; it is our crowning glory to live and tell the story—the Word of God alive!”
Maurice is here to help us tell our stories of God’s loving, liberating and life-giving Good News. He is here to help us tell our stories of healing love, grace, justice and reconciliation not only to ourselves, but to the world. He is here to help us tell our stories, our local and more than local stories of what God is up to in our neighborhoods and in our faith communities. And, believe me, he’s really, really good at it!
This story telling and connecting will take many forms, including a new website to be launched before the end of the year, expanded use of social media, work with local congregations to improve and enhance your ministries of communication and creating a vibrant network of communicators within our diocese to help saturate the State of Vermont with the Good News of Jesus Christ being lived out in our churches and communities. So, I hope you “love to tell the story” because you are going to have plenty of opportunity to do so! Welcome aboard, Maurice! You have already begun helping us transform the way we tell the story.
The final transformational activity underway that I want to highlight today is our deepened commitment to the future of Rock Point. For over 160 years, the Episcopal Church in Vermont has been called to the faithful stewardship of a precious part of God’s creation, just down the road from here. Whether you have ever stepped foot on Rock Point, or not, it is part of your heritage as a member of the Episcopal Church in Vermont, and it is part of your legacy. You “own a piece of the Rock!”
When I was elected as your bishop sixteen years ago, there was an item in the Profile of the Diocese calling for the next bishop to help us determine the future of Rock Point. For my part, and I hope for yours, I don’t want that to be a key item in the profile for the next Bishop of Vermont, whenever that time might come. While at times over these past sixteen years our struggle to determine the future of Rock Point has felt akin to the wilderness wanderings of our faith ancestors, I think, in the end, that it has all been for the good.
It has taken a long time in the planning and I believe that process led to stronger and better outcomes as our vision became more clear and our resolve more steadfast. I believe we are at that place of clarity and steadfastness regarding the future of Rock Point and its role in our efforts to be a more mission oriented church.
The clear and compelling vision for Rock Point is this: “To be a welcoming sanctuary of spirituality, creativity, community, education, training, and environmental stewardship.” To that end, we now have a comprehensive Land Use Plan, a long-range Forestry Plan and unfolding business plans for the Bishop Booth Conference Center and the Rock Point Summer Camp. We also have a growing sense of partnership among the various ministries who call Rock Point home, as well as the many community, educational, recreational, ecumenical, interfaith and other entities who form the wider circle of relationship with Rock Point.
We have already made improvements to the Summer Camp facilities and more are scheduled for next Spring. We will purchase the solar orchard this year, at the end of the 5-year lease. And, we are about to embark on an professional assessment of our 2.8 miles of trails, which will result in a plan to maintain them.
We have in place a Rock Point Commons Budget, a Solar Energy Cooperative, a new 501 c3 Organization for receiving funds to help conserve the land, and we are about to execute our first Conservation Easement with the Lake Champlain Land Trust. This easement is for a portion of our property that abuts city owned property, thus creating an integrated trail system and furthering our partnership with the City of Burlington.
We are working with civic leaders, environmental leaders, conservationists and others who care about the future of Rock Point and who see in this property – the largest and one of the last remaining open public access spaces in Burlington on Lake Champlain – a pearl of great value. I’ve spent sixteen years living and working at Rock Point. It is a pearl of enormous value, and I trust you believe that as well.
All that said, vision and plans need strategies to be successful and to that end we have begun a significant fund-raising strategy to help accomplish this vision to preserve and sustain Rock Point for generations to come. I think the best way for me to tell you about that effort is to show you a brief 5-minute video, that some of you have seen already:
Currently, we are in the individual donor solicitation phase of the campaign and we are having great success. We have a terrific Partnership Campaign Advisory Committee helping to steer this effort. To date, we have received 52 gifts and pledges totaling $380,000. In addition, the Diocesan Council has committed $200,000 from the Robert Patterson Bequest, received in 2006, to be used for construction projects at the Bishop Booth Conference Center. That means new roofs after nearly 40 years and a refurbished parking area. We also have three generous gifts to give us a start on raising the endowment needed to sustain all these improvements, and others are considering bequests.
With the commitment from the Diocesan Council it means that $580,000 worth of investments in the future of Rock Point are in hand, or promised, and being put to work right away. We will continue this phase of the fundraising into next year and then initiate the more public and local congregational phase of the Partnership Campaign at Pentecost.
We’ve all learned a lot creating and launching this campaign. I’ve learned it takes considerable attention on my part to make progress and I am so pleased that we now have 34 percent of what we need in hand. The work is very rewarding as I connect with people all around our diocese, as well as with community and foundation leaders to tell the Rock Point story and invite their support.
One more thing about Rock Point. Besides money, you also need good people to carry out an effective vision and strategy. Thank God we have those people. In addition to the dedicated volunteers and the hardworking Rock Point Board, who along with the Trustees of the Diocese have overall oversight and responsibility for Rock Point, these individual members of the Rock Point staff bring energy, enthusiasm and expertise to their work:
- First is Chuck Courcy, our Property Manager since the year 2000. No one knows or loves Rock Point more than Chuck. His identification with Rock Point is wide-spread through the community. He is one of our great ambassadors.
- Next, Tony Drapelick, the gentle and hospitable Manager of the Bishop Booth Conference Center. Tony works part-time in this ministry, but his heart is definitely full-time. We learned earlier this week that Tony’s Dad died on Monday, so please keep him and his family in your prayers.
- For the past couple of years, since retiring as Rector of Trinity, Shelburne, the Reverend Craig Smith has served as the part-time Development and now Operations Minister at Rock Point. This, thanks to funds available from the Hunt Fund. Craig has been part of the life of Rock Point since he was a boy and his love and devotion are boundless.
- Next is the Reverend Sherry Osborn, the Rock Point Summer Camp Director for the past two seasons. Sherry, along with her talented staff, just completed one of the most successful summers at Rock Point, with over 100 campers experiencing God’s love and the beauty of God’s creation in this very special place.
- Emily Portman joined us this year, thanks to a United Thank Offering grant, as a part-time seasonal member of the team focused on gardening and volunteer coordination. She’s doing a great job.
- I also give thanks for C.J. Spirito, Head of Rock Point School, and the dedicated staff and wonderful students who call Rock Point “home.” They, along with the School Trustees, are full partners in this vision and plan for Rock Point.
- And finally, Ellen McCulloch-Lovell, who serves as the Rock Point Legacy Minister, overseeing the Partnership Campaign for Rock Point. Ellen, a member of Christ Church, Montpelier, comes to us having (by her own admission) “flunked” retirement following a great career of public service and most recently as President of Marlboro College. Ellen quickly caught the Rock Point vision and now helps lead our ambitious fund-raising effort.
I believe we are well on our way to the realization of the vision we hold for the future of Rock Point as a missional center of God’s reconciling mission and healing love for our church and the wider community, as well as a center of environmental sustainability and practice. I hope we can count on the support of every member and every congregation of our diocese as we build upon our heritage and forge a powerful and meaningful legacy for the Episcopal Church in Vermont at Rock Point.
Our own reorientation as a missional diocese is an essential element of our commitment to be part of the Jesus Movement for a missional time such as this. Mission, not maintenance, will set us free to be about the work for which we were commissioned at our baptism.
The proclamation of loving, liberating and life-giving mission announced by Jesus in that Synagogue in Nazareth so long ago is the same Word that God is fulfilling in our hearing today. With God’s help we will be a vital and lively part of that unfolding mission of healing, reconciling love, for as Becca Stevens and her colleagues remind us, “in the end, love is the most powerful force for change in the world.”
It is my joy and passion to be engaged in this great ministry with you. These past sixteen years have been among the most rewarding and challenging of my life. I anticipate nothing less in the years ahead as we continue to partner in the work to which God in Christ has called us and leads us. Thank you for your prayers and your faithfulness as we continue our loving, liberating and life-giving work together in the name of Jesus.
And, by the way, meet my newest granddaughter, Madelyn – born 2 days ago!