I write from Richmond, Virginia, where I am a second-year student at the American College for Bishops (see photo of my class). This three-year program called Living our Vows has been in place for all new bishops in the Episcopal Church of the USA for some years now and I decided to take part because I realized just how much more I needed to know about episcopal ministry. Although we do work on our own in between our annual meeting, and also have a mentor we talk with every month, the residential week in Virginia is the highlight. Even though we come from diverse backgrounds and multiple countries, there is a great commonality to our work as Christian leaders. The importance of vision in episcopal leadership has really been emphasized for us this year.
Today I find myself reflecting deeply upon my own Diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador and our journey as the People of God in that place. I particularly reflect upon the fact that it was exactly one year ago this weekend we held a synod at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist on Friday, followed by Saturday at the Parish of St. Mary the Virgin. That synod, called You are the Body of Christ, invited us all to consider our membership in Christ’s Body, the Church, and how we participate in that body. I gave a “State of the Union” talk and at the end invited parishes to write me a letter crafted around the following three questions:
Acknowledging your membership in the Body of Christ,
-What is the most important part of your congregation or parish’s story?
-What is the most important change that has taken place in your congregation or parish in the past five years?
-What is the most important change that needs to take place in your congregation or parish in the next five years?
That invitation was my attempt to begin a fresh conversation between the bishop and the diocese. I believed then, as I believe now, that as bishop I need to become more than a curiously-dressed visitor who shows up in a parish every year to confirm a few young people and then leaves until the next time. I believe that a far more important part of my role is to engage the church in theological reflection and missional conversation about its life and ministry. I wanted our parishes to do some intentional work with me so that together we could better discern the will of the Holy Spirit and respond with courage in a spirit of Christian discipleship. We cannot be a church that talks only to itself; we must be a church that talks deeply with the world around us and so I invited parishes to write me after considering these questions. I promised to write them back. I hoped to begin a conversation that would continue for some time. And I really wanted to get in on that conversation at the beginning of my episcopacy.
Only four parishes accepted my invitation. Thirty-one declined to respond.
To be quite honest I did not expect every parish to reply. For lots of reasons I knew that some would not. But I did expect to hear from more than four. I chose not to mention this invitation again for a full year so as to give parishes the freedom to accept or reject my offer without pressure. I do know that many of our parishes are doing exciting work today and really are engaging creatively and passionately with our God and with our world. I also know that some of our parishes are worried about their futures and are no longer thinking about growth and mission at all but only about how to survive. There’s got to be more to our shared Christian life than that and we need to talk.
It may even be time for new missional communities to emerge across parish boundaries that bring our people into new relationships with each other and with God. Many of us will remember the Cursillo movement of past years. I know that Cursillo was not for everyone but it did call many of us beyond our parishes into a new community, showing us there was another way to be the church in the world and giving us a fresh experience of the Holy Spirit. It changed many lives. That is an example of the renewal I seek because I fear that too many of us have made what we see in our parishes today the limit of our vision. There can be so much more.
These are early days for me as a bishop. I’m only just marking the first anniversary of my first synod. I might have a few years to go yet. This great church of ours certainly does. But if we are going to make that journey together we really need to talk about where we have come from, where we are, and where we are going. We really have to identify more with ministry and discipleship than buildings and history. I cannot think of anything more important for us to do together right now than to engage in serious reflection upon our work and ask ourselves how well are we really doing? We need to be committed to that conversation together.
In the coming weeks I will be giving a different kind of invitation to our church to have that conversation.
Deadline for Godly Play Core Training Registration:
Godly Play Core Training for Storytellers and Doorkeepers
@ Church of the Good Shepherd, Mount Pearl,NL
Dates: June 4-6, 2015 (Participants must attend all sessions.)
Cost: $200 (includes all meals and materials)
~Thursday, June 4 (6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.)
~Friday, June 5 (9 a.m. to 9 p.m.)
~Saturday, June 6 (9 a.m. to 3 p.m.)
****For inquiries please contact:
Kathy Peddle at firstname.lastname@example.org
Donna Ronan at email@example.com
(Church Office: 747-1022)
****To register contact:
Val Tilley at firstname.lastname@example.org