One Who Will Be Sent
Participating in God’s Call
By Robert Barton
The Transition Committee is pleased to present this first installment of One Who Will Be Sent, a special Mountain series dedicated to the history of and our reflections on the Bishop transition process.
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
– John 20:19-23 (New International Version)
We have upon us a momentous occasion: The search for a new Bishop for The Episcopal Church in Vermont. Over the coming months we will discern and decide, corporately, who our next Bishop will be. And it strikes me that this should give us pause, that the magnitude of this task should humble us, and bless us, for we are not participating in any secular search for a corporate leader, we are actively participating in the life of the Spirit as it moves through the Church. And, more than that, we are participating in a tradition that dates back to Christ breathing the Spirit into the disciples, and sending them out to do the work of the Church in the world. Two thousand years ago, in a small room with doors locked out of fear, the first Apostles were ordained. Today, we continue together in the mighty work of Apostle making.
Since Apostolic times the Church has been held together by the office of Bishop, who holds the seat of Apostle and continues in the authority of the Apostles’ teachings. The Bishop, more than an administrator, is first a pastor, a priest, a teacher, and a prophet. The Bishopric, as a sacramental office, is the sign and symbol of Church unity, and over the Church’s two millennia of history, it is the seat of the Bishop that has been the symbolic center of Church structure and organization. We would do well to remember this today, as differing theologies and politics threaten schism in the deepest parts of the Church. In our search for the right person to lead us, we should remember that our decisions in the coming months will not only determine how our Diocese operates, but how the Church lives and breathes its mission into the world. Because of this, our minds must always be directed to the unity that the Bishop is supposed to represent. And, the fact that clergy and laity alike get to participate in this process, should fill us with holy awe at the work of God in the world, so often expressed and made perfect through fallen and faulty creatures such as ourselves.
The life of the Church has always been communal. Theologies of Scriptural interpretation focus upon the Church as the matrix through which that interpretation comes. Salvation, in both the Old and New Testaments, is expressed mainly in corporate terms. The Church is the Body of Christ, made of individuals – not separate, but part of a communal whole. Yet for centuries the decision-making process for raising up new bishops rested upon the shoulders of the clergy, specifically in councils of Bishops. Bishops themselves were appointed by decree, and this is still how it is done in some sects of the Church that share Apostolic Succession. Not so with the Episcopal Church. With us, Bishops are decided by a vote, one in which clergy and laity alike participate.
In January, at our annual parish meetings, we will, as usual, be electing lay delegates for our Diocesan Convention. But this year the delegates will have an additional, weighty responsibility: They will, with the eligible clergy, help to elect our next bishop at the Special Convention, which is set for May 18th, 2019. This will entail parish members communicating with each other, expressing their hopes and concerns, and finding people who will represent their interests for the greater good of the Church. It is our hope that excitement will gather around this amazing event in which we are able to participate. An event that is not isolated in its import, but which is part of a rich history that dates back to those broken roads of the Roman Empire, which Jesus and his close companions walked. A history that seeks God’s divine will for the world, and seeks to live out the awesome call of working for God’s Kingdom.
When we say “All Are Welcome,” we are also saying, “All Will Be Heard.” …We have a say. We should not take that for granted.
The world can seem as if it is falling apart, and often we may feel like we do not have a voice as the sirens and roars of competing ideas seek ever more attention. We may fear that we are disappearing under all that is going on around us, but we do not need to have the same fears in the Episcopal Church. When we say “All Are Welcome,” we are also saying, “All Will Be Heard.” Of course, this might lead to a few headaches! But, we are family, united in our common confession of Christ as Lord, and these headaches are always worth it when we realize the extreme privilege given to us through the Canons of the Episcopal Church. We have a say. We should not take that for granted.
The weight of history which now rests upon us is one of great responsibility. The excitement for the future is one pregnant with expectation. We are a people that stand forever between two immense certainties: The redeeming work of the cross, and the promise of God’s eschatological fulfillment of history. We are a people defined by the past, so as to build the future. As we now ready ourselves to elect a new Bishop, we should let this weight of history ground us, at the same time that the hope of the future lifts us to the heights of what is possible. Christians have always been a peculiar lot, strangers upon earth, living contrary to the expectations of a fallen world driven by greed and power. We often appear foolish to others, but the wisdom of God is foolishness to the world. So let us live into this foolish hope of ours: That somehow, in some way, the Holy Spirit moves and decides through us. That God’s power truly is made perfect in weakness. And that what we do, say, and believe, actually matters on a scale that is cosmic in scope. In short, let us live this foolish Christian life to the full, seeking only God’s glory, for the benefit of our hurting and suffering human race.
As Advent begins, and we prepare ourselves for the wondrous celebration of God’s Incarnation, let us also prepare ourselves for the task of participating in God’s call, as once again God seeks to raise up among us one who will not only lead, but one who will be sent; one meant to proclaim the Good News of God’s saving grace in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Two millennia ago, our Lord, dusty and risen from the grave, sent out eleven frightened souls to manifest the Kingdom of God upon earth. Today, we stand in that room with the risen Christ, raising our voices as we say, “In the name of the Father we send you. Go in peace.”
Robert Barton, a member of St. Mark’s, Springfield, is a writer, student, and a member of the Green Mountain Witness Team. He is also humbled to be on the Bishop Transition Committee.
Key Responsibilities for Convention Delegates
Lay delegates elected at annual meeting in January, 2019 should be prepared to:
Read and watch any materials or videos that will be distributed about the candidates and discuss them with others in the parish (in late March and early April).
Attend at least one of the in-person or online “Walk About” which will occur April 28-May 1 in order to more fully introduce the candidates to the Episcopal Church in Vermont.
Engage in prayerful discernment about how they will vote in the election.
Attend the Special Convention at which our next bishop will be elected on Saturday, May 18 at the cathedral in Burlington.
Attend and participate in the usual Diocesan Convention, scheduled for October 26.
The rules for electing convention delegates including Special Conventions are laid out in Title 1 Canon 1 (sections 1-14) of the Diocesan Canons.