The Diocese of New Jersey
Bishop’s Address to the 231st Convention of the Diocese of New Jersey
Friday, February 27, 2015 (Friday in Lent 1/Feast of George Herbert)
Ephesians 2:13 – 22; Luke 10:1 – 9
The Right Reverend William H. Stokes, 12th Bishop of New Jersey
From the Dedication of George Herbert’s collection of poems The Temple
Lord, my first fruits present themselves to thee;
Yet not mine either; for from thee they came,
And must return. Accept of them and me,
And make us strive, who shall sing best thy name.
Turn their eyes hither, who shall make a gain:
Theirs, who shall hurt themselves or me, refrain.[i]
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Greetings and welcome to all. It is a great joy and blessing to see us all gathered together for this 231st Convention of the Diocese of New Jersey. It is a particularly special blessing to have the 9th Bishop of the New Jersey, The Right Reverend Mellick Belshaw with us, as well as the 11th Bishop of New Jersey, The Right Reverend George Councell. Thank you for your presence and prayers as well as for all you have done and continue to do to support the life and witness of this diocese. I am especially grateful to Bishop Councell who is not only serving as Chaplain at The Doane Academy in Burlington, but who, after taking a year off, is now assisting me with parish visitations during the year. Thank you.
I am also grateful for the presence of my friends and colleagues, Bishop M. Blair Couch of the Northern Province of the Moravian Church and the Eastern District. Bishop Tracie Bartholomew of New Jersey Synod, ELCA and Bishop Stacy Sauls, Chief Operating Officer of The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society – The Episcopal Church. We will hear from them later on. Bishop Mark Beckwith of the Diocese of Newark should also be joining us.
This year, our diocesan convention falls in Lent. This seems right and good to me. Lent is a season of turning and returning to God. It is a time of spiritual refreshment and renewal through the disciplines of Christian practices: “self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, self-denial, reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.” (BCP p. 265). Our convention theme – Reimagining Mission and Discipleship fits well within the spirit of Lent. Lent is a time to imagine and reimagine ourselves and our lives in God, individually and corporately; to align ourselves more closely to God in Christ, and God’s call to us.
In our Eucharist today, we are also remembering the 17th Century Anglican Divine, poet and priest George Herbert author of the prose work The Country Parson and the collection of poems, The Temple. Two of the hymns we are singing at the Eucharist are poems of his set to music. Herbert was born into an aristocratic family on April 3, 1593 and died on March 1, 1633 just short of his fortieth birthday. He entered Trinity College, Cambridge to study divinity but his path toward the priesthood was nearly derailed. He was appointed the university’s Public Orator which attracted the favorable attention of King James I. After flirting with the idea of a life in politics, even spending a brief time in Parliament, Herbert determined to resume his course toward holy orders. He was ordained a deacon in 1624. In 1629 he married Jane Danvers and in 1630 he was ordained a priest at Salisbury Cathedral. He was offered the rectorship of Fuglestone St. Peter and the chapel of Bemerton St. Andrew in which country post he served until his death from consumption a short three years later in 1633.[ii]
Herbert was remarkable, his faith deep. This faith is clearly reflected in his classic work The Country Parson and in his collections of poems which were not published until after his death. It appears that he wrote The Country Parson prior to, or very early in his tenure as priest at Bemerton.[iii] His purpose, in his own words: “That I may have a mark to aim at which also I will set as high I can, since he shoots higher that threatens the Moon, than he which aims at a Tree.”[iv] Herbert’s The Country Parson is a treasure and still has much that commends it to parish clergy today.
In the Introduction to the volume on George Herbert in The Classics of Western Spirituality series, John N. Wall Jr. writes, “In the midst of an age fraught with religious controversy, Herbert represented for his contemporaries a clear point of reference, a voice honest about the complexities of the Christian life yet affirming its central tasks. As such, Herbert would serve as a reminder of the essentials of Christian living, as well as an example of one who would not be swayed from his devotion to them.”[v]
His poetic masterpiece, The Temple, indeed the entire body of his work and ministry resonate with imagery and the theology and ecclesiology found in today’s letter to the Ephesians …. you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God (Ephesians 2:19 – 22).
Herbert understood well, that it is the people of God, the body of Baptized Christians that comprise the Church. While there is no doubt that he revered and treasured the sacred space of the physical sanctuary, was nurtured in such space, and understood the value of the sanctuary for building up the body of Christ, he also recognized that the people of God, the body of baptized Christians were, and are, the real Temple of God, as today’s reading from Ephesians affirms.
As Church, as the body of Christ, we have one mission – God’s mission: bearing the transforming Good News of Jesus Christ and his reconciling love to a world starving for these. This must guide every decision we make, every worship service we share, every program we create and every way we use our sacred spaces. As Church, we are, too often, still insular, inward focused – an attitude that hampers the outward movement that has marked Christianity from its origins.
Today’s Gospel reading is striking. Jesus expands his missionary team beyond the original twelve to a group of seventy disciples (see Luke 10:1 ff). He sends them out in pairs. Luke writes, that “he sends them to every town and place where he himself intended to go” (10:1). I find that compelling. He sends them out to every place where he himself intends to go. As disciples of Christ, we are always an “advance team.” Like John the Baptist, we go to prepare the way (e.g. Mark 1:1 – 8). As “living reminders” of Christ, to use a powerful image from Henri Nouwen[vi], we are Christ-bearers in a world that is desperately in need of the transforming Good News of Jesus and his love. When we go faithfully, he will follow. Sometimes, we will discover, that he has arrived ahead of us.
I am excited about this diocesan convention and its theme. The Reverend Tom Brackett, The Episcopal Church’s Missioner for New Church Starts and Missional Initiatives will be our keynote speaker and will offer a workshop tomorrow titled “Mission, Molting and Midwife” during which we will be invited to consider “extravagant models of resurrection and emergence around us, and encouraged – given heart – to try some ‘midwifing’ practices for the sake of mission out in the world” which, as Tom, observes, “God loves so fiercely.”[vii]
Dr. Lisa Kimball, Director of the Center for the Ministry of Teaching and Professor of Christian Formation and Congregational Leadership at Virginia Theological Seminary is with us as well, and will lead a workshop tomorrow titled “Beyond Sunday School: Forming Faith Lifelong AND Lifewide.”[viii] Lisa recognizes the challenges we all face in our contemporary context and will encourage us to stretch ourselves to address these challenges. Both Tom Brackett and Lisa Kimball are providing us with genuine opportunities at this convention to Reimagine Mission and Discipleship. I urge you not to miss their workshops. Each will be offered twice. What an exciting opportunity for your congregations.
During this Convention, you will be asked to consider a series of what I believe are bold, innovative, initiatives that will advance our ability to reimagine discipleship and mission in this diocese. These include additional funding to “retool our ministries: by strengthening the current budget”; creation and implementation of a diocesan-wide process for congregational mission development under the leadership of our new Canon for Congregational Development, Rob Droste; (Rob had the first meeting of his new Congregational Development team last week, which was very exciting. You’ll be hearing more from him during the business session of convention).
Among our Special Initiatives is one to upgrade the technological capability of Trinity Cathedral so that we can use it as a communications center for educational/formational and missional webcasts and webinars that can reach the whole diocese. These things are all in service of the first two marks of Five Marks Anglican Mission:[ix] 1) “To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom” and 2) “To teach, baptize and nurture new believers.”
The remaining three marks – To respond to human need by loving service; To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation; and to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth — are served in additional Special Initiatives.
We propose the creation of a Joint Office of Government Relations in partnership with the Diocese of Newark, the New Jersey Synod of the ELCA, The Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. Significant funding has already been secured or committed to from the other participating partners. This office will help us work together on issues of concern to our churches in the State of New Jersey. The Reverend Sara Lilja, who is currently on staff of the ELCA New Jersey Synod is with us and will speak to convention about how this Office will help our congregations in mission.
Among the special initiatives are proposals to address the crisis faced by our historic black churches in the diocese by creating the position of a part-time Missioner for Black Ministries as well as a Task Force that will be charged with the responsibility of looking at the challenges confronting the Black Churches today with particular attention to the lack of growth in our African-American communities as well as the nagging reality that there are too few vocations to holy orders among African-Americans and other persons of color.
Some, including members of Diocesan Council, have expressed concern that a part-time position for a Missioner for Black Ministries is not sufficient, that this requires a full-time staff person. I agree that it should be a fulltime position. I believe we should work toward that and am open to that. Budget constrictions seemed to limit our capacity for that this year. But let’s get started.
Our Special Initiatives also focus on two of our historic black churches where we believe there is a real opportunity for growth and ministry. St. Augustine’s in Asbury Park and St. Augustine’s in Atlantic City which is our only remaining congregation in that city.
We are continuing to strengthen the initiative begun last year when we created a regional Hispanic Missioner in the person of Fr. Ramon Ubiera. We are also supporting the development of All Saints Lakewood, where Fr. Ramon established a strong Hispanic Congregation that is now part of the wider All Saints community and ministry. This congregation started with a handful of people and now worships, on average, between 160 and 200 on a weekend in addition to the traditional Anglo Congregation that has been faithful and steady in working with this new model. Following the plan of the Coalition – a coalition which includes Christ Church, Toms River and St. Thomas, Red Bank — the parishioners from any worship service at All Saints can, and do, equally participate in all levels of ministry, including election to Vestry. The intention is to create an integrated community whereby both Spanish and English languages and cultures are celebrated together. Similar trends are also emerging at St. Thomas, Red Bank.
Lastly, in our efforts to continue to transform the unjust structures of society, we are investing in our anti-racism work, so that we can train people within the diocese to do the same outstanding work that has heretofore been contracted to an outside group of trainers. As this past year’s events in Ferguson and New York, as the unjust system of mass incarceration in our nation, makes clear, racism and racial injustice are alive and still very much a part of our cultural context. Working with God to bring about the kingdom demands that we continue to confront this evil and work at racial reconciliation with justice.
It is my hope and my prayer that you will support all these special initiatives that go a long way in helping us to reimagine mission and discipleship in this diocese. They have all been considered and enthusiastically endorsed by Diocesan Council, the Trustees and the Standing Committee.
Reclaiming the central importance of forming Christian disciples is at the heart of much of what I am proposing for the Diocese of New Jersey. Strengthening Christian Education and Formation for people of all ages is a central goal of my episcopate. Too many people in our pews don’t know their Christian story. Too many people in our congregations are the product of what Episcopal priest and educator John Westerhoff called a “broken ecology of Christian formation and a failed school instruction model.”
It is hard to engage in Christian mission without a strong knowledge about, and relationship with, Jesus Christ and without fully embracing and living out baptismal identity as defined by our baptismal covenant. Dwight Zscheile, our keynote speaker at last year’s Convention has written, “…recovering a deeper and more robust practice of discipleship is integral to the renewal of Episcopal identity. To be a disciple is to be a learner, and church life in twenty-first century America must focus on learning new ways of being God’s people in a strange new land.”[x] I agree completely with Zscheile.
Toward that end, I have initiated the first Bishop’s Spring Conference on Christian Education and Formation which will take place on April 18 at Trinity Cathedral. This Conference will bring in nationally recognized leaders and address real challenges that face today’s parishes. The Sunday School model is increasingly difficult to sustain. What can we do to deliver the faith to the home more effectively, to remediate parents so that they can be the primary players in forming their children and youth in the faith? What can we do to strengthen faith formation among adults, so that adults understand the depths of Christian faith and the real responsibilities that come with baptismal living? How can we use technology more effectively in reaching people and transmitting the faith to all ages?
Lisa Kimball will launch a discussion of these questions during her workshops at this Convention. We will continue this critical conversation at the Bishop’s Spring Conference on April 18th. It is my hope, and expectation that every congregation will send clergy and lay teams to this event. And note well, this is not merely about Sunday School for children and youth, it is about comprehensive Christian formation for people of all ages. Our primary task today is the formation of adults. If we do that well, the children and youth will follow. This is key to reimagining discipleship and mission in today’s church and world.
In his book, Cultivating the Missional Church: New Soil for Growing Vestries and Leaders Randlolph C. Ferebee observes, “We, in the Western world, live in transition from the Christendom ‘captivity” of the Church to the emerging New Apostolic Era.”[xi] He is right about this. Christianity can no longer assume it is a dominant force in a supportive Christian culture.
Our times are much more like those of the first apostles in the days following the Ascension. They had to proclaim the love of Jesus Christ in a world that was at best indifferent to that love, at worst hostile to it. In those days, all the baptized understood their responsibility to proclaim and live the mission. Ferebee writes of our context, “One of the most noteworthy rerooting experiences of the church in this new era is the return of mission as the responsibility of all the people of God in their daily life.”[xii] This notion of the return of mission as the responsibility of all the people of God in their daily life is a part of our reimagining mission and discipleship in the Church. There is lots of Good News in the Garden State where this reimagining is already going on.
Fr. Rick Morley and the people of St. Mark’s, Basking Ridge offer a Eucharist once a month for children with autism and their families. I had the privilege of celebrating one of these services last year. Afterwards, the parents of one of the children came up to me. Tears were in their eyes. “Bishop, we can’t tell you how much this service means to us and how grateful we are….We have never felt comfortable taking our child to other church services.” Wow! That’s Good News in the Garden State!
On another front, Fr. Gideon Uzomechina and members of the Brotherhood of St. Andrews visit prisons every week in this diocese. They have created a brotherhood chapter with over 200 members. Before Christmas, I had the privilege of welcoming more than a dozen new members. That’s Good News in the Garden State!
Debi Clarke is an incredible gift to this diocese, and especially to our youth and young adults, who by the way, are here in force, serving as greeters and working at the registration desks and in other capacities. Recently, during a lock-in at the Cathedral, they prepared meals for distribution overseas as part of the Stop Hunger Now Feeding Program. Through their participation in this program over four years, they have fed more than 203,000 people in poorer parts of the world. More Good News in the Garden State!
Our partnership with Episcopal Relief and Development, especially our work in Hurricane Sandy Relief under the able watch of Keith Adams, has had an enormous impact on people in our diocese who were devastated by the effects of that Superstorm and who are suffering still. More than $1 million has been devoted toward that work, and the work continues still. Laity and clergy across the diocese have given countless hours of service and relief. That’s Good News in the Garden State. This year we celebrate the 75th Anniversary of ERD . We as a diocese have pledged to raise $150,000 for this vital agency of our church. I urge all parishes to participate. That will be Good News in the Garden State!
I could go on and on….Christ Church, Bordentown’s Blessing of the Fire Trucks, which is also done in other churches throughout the diocese….St. Elizabeth’s, Elizabeth’s Flea Market on the Street; The Church of Our Merciful Savior, Penns Grove which sponsors a “uniform closet” providing uniforms for public students throughout Salem County. Cristo Rey, in Trenton, which not only evangelizes the neighborhood it serves, but also is leading the way in advocacy for immigrants.
The many feeding programs across the diocese from St. Mark’s, Keansburg to St. Paul’s, Camden are part of the Good News; so is our diocesan choir camp, led by the incomparable Diane Caruso. Young people from across the diocese gather to make a joyful noise to the Lord. The Azarel Computer Center at St. Augustine’s, Atlantic City; Ashes to Go during which clergy went to 34 locations and made contact with more than 2,000 people; The Battle Against Hunger Bike Ride started by Chuck Inman and the people of St. Matthew’s, Pennington, which has become an enormous event for the diocese; The Souls for the Harvest Run sponsored by Holy Apostles, Yardville; our partnership with GreenFaith which is being given real life by churches like St. Bernards in Bernardsvillle; it is all Good News in the Garden State! Mission and Discipleship are being re-imagined everyday in this diocese. Yes, it is a challenging time to be church. It is also an exciting time.
I feel enormously blessed to be your bishop. We are all enormously blessed to have a dedicated, skilled and faithful diocesan staff who not only serve us all so well, but who service God’s mission in Christ well. Thank you all, my beloved, for all you do as servants of Christ in this part of God’s dominion….God is sending us out….Sending us all out into the harvest; sending us out to reimagine mission, to reimagine discipleship, to reimagine the kingdom and to work with God in bringing it about. Yes, there are challenges ahead, enormous challenges, but the kingdom of God has come near to us…There is, indeed, Good News in the Garden State! And there is more Good News to make and to proclaim. Thank you and God bless you.
[i] Herbert, George The Temple from The Classics of Western Spirituality: George Herbert – The Country Parson, The Temple (New York, Ramsey, Toronto: Paulist Press, 1981) p. 118
[ii] Biographical information was obtained from the Preface and Introduction in The Classics of Western Spirituality: George Herbert – The Country Parson, The Temple (New York, Ramsey, Toronto: Paulist Press, 1981) as well as from Wikipedia “George Herbert” see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Herbert
[iii] The Classics of Western Spirituality: George Herbert, pp. 14-15
[iv] The Classics of Western Spirituality: George Herbert, pp. 15, 54
[v] John N. Wall, Jr. “Introduction” The Classics of Western Spirituality – George Herbert, pp.5-6
[vi] Nouwen, Henri The Living Reminder: Service and Prayer in Memory of Jesus Christ (New York: Harper One – A Division of HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 1977.
[vii] From the Program of 231st Annual Convention of the Diocese of New Jersey published by The Diocese of New Jersey, 2015. P. 7
[viii] Convention Program, p. 8
[ix] The Five Marks of Anglican Mission were developed by The Anglican Consultative Council b tween 1984 and 1990 and adopted by The General Convention of the Episcopal Church in 2009.
[x] Zscheile, Dwight People of the Way: Renewing Episcopal Identity (New York, etc: Morehouse Publishing, 2012, p. 118
[xi] Ferebee, Randolph C. Cultivating the Missional Church: New Soil for Growing Vestries and Leaders (New York, Harrisburg: Morehouse Publishing Inc., 2012) Kindle Book location 271
[xii] Ferebee, Kindle Book location 271