Bishop Ely’s 2018 Diocesan Convention Address
The following is the full text of the 2018 Diocesan Convention Address delivered by the Rt. Rev. Thomas C. Ely on October 27, 2018, at the Hilton Burlington. A video of this presentation is available online at https://vimeo.com/297858240.
In the Bible we read: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1) On April 28, 2001, when I was ordained and consecrated as the 10th Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont, little did I know that today would be the time for offering my final Convention Address to the people of the Episcopal Church in Vermont, who I love and cherish. But it is that time and it is that season. I am grateful for all the times and all the seasons in which we have ministered together in the service of God’s reconciling mission.
At the risk of being too nostalgic, I thought a fitting and interesting way to begin this Convention Address would be to look back upon our life and ministry together through the lens of the Diocesan Conventions we have shared. Let’s see how many you remember.
The journey begins in 2001 when the theme was “Living the Covenant:” The covenant was, not surprisingly, the Baptismal Covenant, where I sought to rehearse and deepen our understanding and experience of Baptismal Ministry and Baptismal Living in our common life. We gathered in Convention that year in the wake of the 9-11 tragedy, and shortly after the gathering of the House of Bishops in this very hotel.
The following year we gathered around the title “Wade in the Water: Living more fully into our Baptismal Covenant.” That year also saw, the US invasion of Afghanistan.
2003 brought the Right Reverend Barbara Harris to Vermont. “Engaging God’s Mission” was the theme that year, and upon which we have built ever since. By way of reminder, that was also the year of the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, Bishop Gene Robinson’s consecration, and the year of Saddam Hussein’s capture.
In 2004, “Stewards of God’s Mission” was our theme, with Bishop Margaret Payne joining us. It was then that we launched the Diocesan Strategic Plan for Growth and Ministry. That year we also saw increased tension in the Anglican Communion and the publication of the Windsor Report. Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook from his Harvard dormitory room that year, and Massachusetts became the first State to legalize same-sex marriage.
In 2005, we gathered at the Lake Morey Inn for a lively Convention focused on Global Mission. Bishop Martin Barahona, Bishop of El Salvador, was our Convention preacher. This Convention featured global ministry workshops, highlighting global connections to our ministries here in Vermont. You will recall, this Convention came on the heels of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated much of the US Gulf Coast from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle.
We returned to Burlington in 2006 and focused on “Connecting Communities.” The Very Reverend David duPlantier, Dean of Christ Church Cathedral in New Orleans, joined us and we celebrated our connections with our own Cathedral here in Burlington. That was also the year in which Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected and installed as the 26th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.
The following year, the year of my Sabbatical which took me to South Sudan and El Salvador, we welcomed the new Presiding Bishop to Vermont with the theme “What One Can Do: Changing the World.” Bishop Jefferts Schori keynoted a Community Forum on Global Reconciliation at UVM’s Ira Allen Chapel. That was also the year in which we celebrated the 175th Anniversary of the Diocese of Vermont.
In 2008, Vermonter Bill McKibben joined us for our Convention in Rutland, addressing the theme “Tending God’s World, NOW! He inspired us, inviting us to recommit ourselves to actively caring for creation. I announced the creation of a Task Force to study and plan for what it will take to bring renewable energy projects to Rock Point and to make Rock Point a model of energy conservation and efficiency. That initiative led to the Solar Orchard that now provides all the electricity consumed on Rock Point. We also welcomed Bishop Mary Adelia McLeod back to Vermont as our preacher for the conclusion of our 175 Anniversary celebration.
Using “local talent” from the Episcopal Church in Vermont, in 2009 we engaged the theme “Formed for Ministry: Transforming Our Culture.” Our Ministry Fairs and Convention featured workshops focused on formation with children and youth, stories of transformation in Vermont, formation around social justice issues and the importance of spiritual practices as part of our Christian formation. That was also the year Marriage Equality became the law in Vermont.
In 2010 we welcomed the Rev. Emily Scott, from Saint Lydia’s in Manhattan, for our theme “Praying Our Life, Living Our Prayer.” She introduced us to the concept of Dinner Eucharist, and we experienced that model during our Convention Banquet. That year, we faced the need to scale back our diocesan Ministry Support Team, even as many congregations faced similar realities due to the economic crisis and its impact on so many in our country. This was also the year of the massive Earthquake in Haiti, which led to a generous financial response from the people of our diocese.
We held two Conventions in 2011, both around the theme “I Love to Tell the Story.” The first, in June that year. featured the Reverend Anthony B. Robinson, Author of Changing the Conversation: A Third Way for Congregations, a book that many of us read and discussed in our local congregations. This was also the Convention during which we determined that it was not the right time to move forward with a major Capital Campaign, but instead to focus on some internal concerns.
The second Convention in 2011, was our Annual Diocesan Convention, with the continuing theme, “I Love to Tell the Story.” Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies of The Episcopal Church, was our special guest. During this Convention, we presented President Anderson with more than $34,000 for the Episcopal Church Relief effort in Haiti from the congregations of this diocese. That was right on the heels of Tropical Storm Irene, which hit Vermont on August 28th and which propelled us into some of the most intense and meaningful ministry response during my years as your bishop.
Bishop Michael Curry was our Convention speaker the following year in 2012. Our theme was, “What About Jesus?” Bishop Curry lead a preaching workshop on Friday morning and a forum on discipleship Friday afternoon. He then preached a rousing sermon on Saturday and spent time with the youth of our diocese at Rock Point. Little did we know that three years later he would be serving as our Presiding Bishop and the “Jesus Movement” would be front and center in the life of The Episcopal Church, just as it was that weekend in Burlington! Sadly, 2012 was also the year in which we saw the devastation of Superstorm Sandy and witnessed the tragedy of gun violence at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The next year, our Convention focused on a new initiative called “Stirrings of the Spirit.” The Reverend Tom Brackett joined us for this Convention and Ana Hernández led us in song throughout the weekend. The Stirrings of the Spirit initiative launched some wonderful and creative ministries throughout the Episcopal Church in Vermont, several of which continue today. 2013 was also the year Pope Francis was elected! Another Stirring of the Spirit?
In 2014, I returned from my second sabbatical to welcome Bishop Ian Douglas as our Convention guest for our gathering at Jay Peak. The theme was “Equipped for the Journey: Formation for Mission.” This Convention featured great workshops focused on how best to engage in God’s Mission here in Vermont. This was also the Convention when we arrived in warm sunshine and left in sleeting, freezing snow!
In 2015 the Reverend Gay Clark Jennings, President of the House of Deputies, joined as our Convention guest, and she helped us be “Jazzed About God’s Mission.” That was the Convention during which we focused attention on three topics: local mission approaches, how we fund our mission, and the future of Rock Point; all three of which figure prominently in our mission today.
In 2016, we welcomed the Reverend Becca Stevens and her colleagues from Thistle Farms under the theme, “Love Heals.” We also heard from many Vermont agencies engaged in the work of healing broken lives. The Most Rev. Christopher J. Coyne brought greetings from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington and the inspiring art work of Janet McKenzie was on display throughout the Cathedral. This was also the year that our newest grandchild, Madelyn, was born two days before the Convention, and you saw this newborn picture of her in grandpa’s arms.
Then last year, at Jackson Gore, in Ludlow, Vermont, Donna Hicks shared Convention with us as we explored the theme: “Declare Dignity.” She reminded us that every small act of dignity can make a huge difference! This Convention featured a dignity focused Exposition of various ministries and organizations.
Now, this year, we have greeted the Reverend Stephanie Spellers, along with her colleagues, Jeremy Tackett and The Reverend Fred Vergara, to help us explore the topic of Evangelism through the theme: “Go Tell it on the Mountains: Evangelism Vermont- Style. I like this theme because it is forward-looking, and I am very grateful to our Vermont Green Mountain Witness Team, led by the Reverend Titus Pressler, for all they have done and are continuing to do to keep this theme before us in the months and years ahead. I’ll say more about this later in my Address.
Well, that’s quite a journey through time and the years of our ministry together. I hope you can appreciate, as I do, how these years of missional engagement and exploration have shaped us, inspired us and strengthened us for our common life and mission as the Episcopal Church in Vermont. For me, it has been a delightful and meaningful journey. It has bought great pleasure to my life and ministry, as well as a more senior look to my appearance.
So, as Carol Burnett used to say, “I’m so glad we had this time together.”
Moving from a rehearsal of our shared history, I now want to say a few words about the people with whom it has been my privilege to share this common life and mission. One of the great joys of this ministry has been the opportunity to meet so many people and to work closely with so many of you at the local, diocesan and wider-church levels. I can’t name everyone by name, so this slide is the best way to express the deep thanks from my heart to all with whom I have had the pleasure of sharing in ministry here in Vermont, including all the Committees, Commissions, Boards, Wardens, Vestries, and countless parishioners whom I have met over these past 17+ years. Here, I also and especially include the talented women and men who serve and have served as members of the diocesan Ministry Support Team over the years. What a privilege it has been to work with such wonderful and dedicated colleagues.
It is a real blessing to recall the many lives which have intersected with mine over the years of my episcopate. There are those I have baptized, confirmed, received, ordained, commissioned, or with whom I have simply shaken hands, exchanged greetings, or shared a meal with during my Visitations. “Thank you” seems an inadequate expression, but these are the only words that can express the gratitude I feel in my heart and soul today.
That said, there are three people who I do want to single out and name in gratitude for their collegiality and ministry. These three people have been with me as partners all the years of my episcopal ministry, and each in their own way has helped shape and supported my ministry as your bishop.
First, the source of incredible historical knowledge, who offers her ministry as our volunteer Historiographer and Registrar, is Elizabeth Allison. Beside knowing where all the bodies are buried, literally and figuratively, Elizabeth is always at the ready to provide historical information about the Episcopal Church in Vermont (and beyond) to me and to anyone who reaches out to her for help. I never worry about “fake news” when dealing with Elizabeth. She is all about the facts but is also quite willing to provide colorful commentary on our history. I don’t think she is here today but thank you Elizabeth for sharing this journey with me.
Second, when I went to the new Bishop’s orientation (some call this baby bishops school) one of the points that was emphasized repeatedly was to make sure you have and maintain a good relationship with your Chancellor. Thank God, I was blessed to inherit someone I consider to be the best Chancellor in the Episcopal Church, Thomas A. Little, Esquire. Tom has served me and this Diocese with incredible generosity and wisdom for over 20 years. Tom, few, if any, know better than I what a blessing your friendship, ministry and devotion to service means to the Episcopal Church in Vermont. Thank you!
You all probably know who I am going to name as the third person in this trinity of colleagues with whom I have shared ministry every day of my episcopate. My only regret is that Canon Lynn Bates is not here in person to hear these words, although I think she may be watching on line from home, with Marley. As with Elizabeth and Tom, I “inherited” Lynn upon my election and arrival as your bishop, and gladly so!
Each of these three are precious gifts in their own way, but Lynn is the gift that just keeps on giving as we share the close day to day ministry relationship that bishops have with their Canon to the Ordinary. Lynn is my trusted colleague, confidant and friend. Our gifts complement each other well and, in this ministry, I count on her like I count on no one else (except perhaps God, and that might be a tie) for wisdom, strength, inspiration and a kick in the pants when I need it.
As most of you know, Lynn is currently on sabbatical, a sabbatical that got off to a rough start with her hospitalization in Nova Scotia. She is at home now, resting and awaiting further consultations with her doctors, and still planning to engage some of the continuing education segments of her sabbatical. She sends her best, and I know we send our love and prayers back to her.
The final topic to which I turn in this Convention Address is the current and future mission of the Episcopal Church in Vermont. While I am still very much “at work” as your bishop, it is not really my place at this point in my ministry to talk much about the future focus and direction of the Episcopal Church in Vermont, although I continue to believe that there is much to celebrate and much important ministry ahead for this great diocese.
I think the Profile for the next Bishop of Vermont does a good job of laying out current realities and challenges. I commend the work of the Bishop Discernment and Nominating Committee and the Standing Committee, and especially the listening process that was so key to this work. We will hear more from them and the Episcopal Transition Committee later in this Convention.
Part of what I do think we must celebrate is the success of the Partnership Campaign for Rock Point. Here, I want to give a huge shout out to Ellen McCulloch-Lovel, who served as our Legacy Minister for this effort. Without her leadership and guidance, I would not be standing before you today reporting that we have exceeded our $1.7 million-dollar goal, by over $250,000 and are closing in on the $2 million -dollar mark. Ellen is not here today, but later we will have the opportunity to express our thanks to her with one of our courtesy resolutions. Her ministry among us has been phenomenal.
Of course, Ellen was not alone in this effort. Yes, I spent a considerable amount of time focused on this work, but I did so alongside the Rock Point Board, the Campaign Advisory Committee, the Trustees of the Diocese, the members of the diocesan Ministry Support Team, the Diocesan Council and many volunteers, as well as all the generous donors and the participation by 44 of our congregations in the Parish phase of the Partnership Campaign we called “Upon This Rock.” While there is still much to do as we build upon this investment, the future of Rock Point is far more secure now, for which I give thanks to God and to all of you who have made this possible. I also give thanks for the ministries of Craig Smith, David McKay, Chuck Courcy, Tony Drapelick, Sherry Osborne and the Rock Point Camp Staff, Michelle Sandul, C.J. Spirito and the staff of Rock Point School, who all serve Rock Point so well.
I want to celebrate something else that I’ve experienced in our faith communities, especially as I have been extending my visitation cycle to include weekdays. That something is a vitality for mission and ministry, both in terms of in-reach and outreach. The Episcopal Church in Vermont is filled with caring, loving, generous, faithful people who strive to live the Jesus life that springs forth from baptism and a commitment to our baptismal vows. My experience is that you strive to witness to, and share deeply in, that loving, liberating and life-giving reconciling mission of God that our Presiding Bishop has identified for us as the work of the Episcopal Church branch of the Jesus Movement. This vitality is real and very much alive and evident in ministries from prayer and meditation, to engaging adult formation, to missional connections in local communities, to generous use of your buildings and the generous offerings of your time, talent and treasure. Thank you for that witness!
At the same time, I am mindful of the uncertainty many feel. Uncertainty about money and budgets; uncertainty about the human capacity needed to continue with structures and programs as they now exist; uncertainty about the number of members and worshippers in our churches, and uncertainty about our capacity to thrive amidst changing ecclesiastical and secular landscapes. I share those uncertainties, but I think the vitality I see is far more indicative of the missional spirit of the people of our diocese. It is on you and that vitality and commitment to mission that I rest my hope.
The final thing I want to celebrate in this Address is the theme of this Convention and its significance to our present and future common life in Christ – Evangelism. During this time together, we have heard from the Reverend Canon Stephanie Spellers, Canon to the Presiding Bishop for Evangelism, Reconciliation and Stewardship of Creation, the workshop leaders, including Jeremy Tackett (Digital Evangelist for the Episcopal Church), Fred Vergara (Missioner for Asia America Ministries of the Episcopal Church) and members of our Vermont Green Mountain Witness Team, about the importance of re-claiming evangelism as part of our charism as people of faith. For too long, we have let others define evangelism, and many have done so in ways that make many of us cringe and want to avoid using the “E” word all together.
Hopefully, this Convention has renewed in us the confidence we need to claim the promise of evangelism that is part of our Baptismal Covenant: “Will you by word and example proclaim the Good News of God in Christ?” When we answer this question with the words, “I will, with God’s help,” we are placing ourselves squarely in the middle of the story of God’s great love for us – the Gospel – the Good News story of Jesus Christ. My hope is that we are open to sharing our story, open to listening to the story of others and then seeking connections in those life stories to God’s story of reconciling love and dignity for all.
Our Convention theme is “Go Tell it on the Mountains: Evangelism Vermont Style.” Ask yourselves what it means for you and for how you will bring this theme back into the life of your local faith community and your individual ministries of witness. Trust me, I will be watching, and hopefully sharing in this work in a new way as Ann and I make our way to Newfane and the next season in our lives, ever grateful for the many ways you have welcomed us into your lives and ministries.
If we all embrace the gifts we have been given in this Convention, I know there is promise for our own transformation and power for the next chapter in the transformation of the Episcopal Church in Vermont. That will be a wonderful gift to our next bishop.
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” Living into the fullness of our baptismal identity and ministry has been the focus of my entire ordained ministry and particularly here in Vermont as your Bishop. You have blessed me with the honor of this office in which I have been privileged to proclaim this foundational understanding of our life as disciples of Jesus Christ. For that gift and the gifts of your confidence, love, respect, forgiveness and forbearance, I can only, and from the depth of my heart, say thank you, thank you, thank you.
©The Right Reverend Thomas C. Ely, Bishop of Vermont