The news this past week from Israel and Gaza has been devastating. The war between Israel and Hamas has killed thousands and displaced almost half a million people. It is a humanitarian disaster and there is untold suffering and need in Gaza and in Israel. Yesterday, at least 400 lives were lost in a missile strike at the Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza, including children, refugees, and medical personnel.
As we have congregations and ministries to celebrate, we also have some challenges. As a diocese, we’re spending a lot more than we should. This year, our draw from our endowments, reserve funds, and trust accounts is more than $1,300,000. Last year, it was more than $900,000. This is not sustainable. While we are still discerning together some of the details about where God is calling us to focus, it is clear that part of our common call in the near future is toward fiscal stability.
As we work toward the Special Budget Convention on December 9, 2023, the diocesan Finance and Budget Committee is preparing the 2024 budget. While there is still much to be done, it is my hope that we will be able to take some substantial steps toward closing the gap between our income and our expenses. We are already taking steps to decrease expenditures in some key areas.
As we prepare for our next Diocesan Convention, we have some financial challenges to address. Our congregations and our diocese have limited resources and there are many needs in our churches and communities. I do not yet know what the budget will look like, but I am committed to good stewardship of our resources, our people, and our communities. More information will be available soon, and I look forward to what will be, and to what, by the grace of God, we are becoming. Things take the time they take, and we are on God’s journey, together.
The Diocese of New Jersey has sometimes struggled with communications. I recognize this, and I also recognize that the work of diocesan communications is challenging. There are many demands and many opportunities. We have limited resources, of people, skills, and funds. We want to do God’s work, to know our stories and share them boldly, to proclaim the Good News and make disciples. We also want clear and accessible platforms, technology, and graphics, together with timely and appealing updates, in formats everyone can understand. We have not used the available resources to their fullest potential, and our communications practices and strategy have at times fallen short.
It has not been difficult for me to find hope here. There is so much that is good happening in our churches and communities. The congregations of the Diocese of New Jersey are active and engaged in God’s work. We pray, sing, and learn together, nurturing God’s people in so many ways. We offer feeding programs and shelter for the most vulnerable members of society. We provide space for people to find connections and overcome isolation, we host 12-step programs, community organizations, nonprofits, schools, and daycares. We work to end racism, stand against oppression, and do our best to make God’s loving, liberating, and life-giving power known in worship and action.
As hopeful as I am, there is also much work for us to do.
I have consulted with the leaders of the Diocese of New Jersey Commission on Ministry, the Committee on the Priesthood, the Committee on the Diaconate, and the School for Ministry. Earlier today, I let those in formal discernment for Holy Orders in our diocese know that I have made the decision to place the Diocese of New Jersey’s ordination process on hold for a period of at least six months, effective immediately. During this time, no new applications will be received, and no applicants, postulants, or candidates will move forward to the next stage of their discernment.
I am seeing new beginnings in all kinds of place, not just limited to Sundays. Visits with vestries, appointments with clergy and lay leaders, and other opportunities to connect with churches and communities all hold the possibility of new beginnings. The staff and I are having a lot of conversations with vestries about new ways of engaging with clergy and mission, about serving those in need in local neighborhoods, evangelism, multicultural ministry, congregational affiliations, mission and purpose, and faithful stewardship. All this is to say that I am holding both gratitude and hope.
The world needs what we have to offer—welcoming and supportive community, beautiful worship from our beloved Book of Common Prayer, a church that truly welcomes all God’s people to serve and to lead, and so much more. We are not perfect, and we can each acknowledge the times and ways that we fall short as individuals and congregations, but, by the grace of God, what we do matters, and we can make a difference.
For me, one of the most moving moments in the service was the moment when Bishop Chip Stokes presented me with the crozier of the Diocese of New Jersey. This symbol of the bishop’s office is in the shape of a shepherd’s crook and represents the bishop’s role as chief pastor and shepherd of the diocese. The crozier of the Diocese of New Jersey is beautiful, with a silver hook depicting various Christian symbols. On receiving it, I was struck by the significance of the occasion, and the gift and weight of this calling. It was easy to receive it from Bishop Stokes because he has carried it so well. As I learn to carry this crozier and the other symbols of my role as your bishop, I begin with both joy and gratitude.
It was a great joy to be with you, as you gave thanks for the ministry of Bishop Chip Stokes. At that time, I fully expected to be with you for the ordination and consecration of the Rev. Dr. Sally French to serve as the 13th Bishop of New Jersey. Little did I know then that for reasons of health I would be unable to be present with you on this joyful occasion. But I am deeply thankful that Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves, the Vice President of the House of Bishops and the Managing Director of the College for Bishops, will be with you as Chief Consecrator.
Juneteenth invites all Americans to acknowledge and tell the truth about our history, a history which is too often “white-washed,” sanitized and mythologized. Juneteenth should stir us to work diligently for an America that fulfills its highest ideals for all its citizens and people, not just some. This faith-filled work is at the heart of the Golden Rule.
For many people, June is a favorite month. It’s the beginning of vacation season and the end of the school year. For those of us who follow the church’s calendar, it marks the transition from Easter to Pentecost and the green and growing weeks that follow. Our Sunday readings for the weeks after Pentecost focus on living into our faith, learning about Jesus, and responding to God’s call.
Susan and I are still filled with a profound sense of gratitude and thanksgiving for the blessings and love we experienced at Sunday night’s Farewell Gala. I am confident I can speak for Canons Mary Ann Rhoads and Ann Notte, as well as for Mary Ann Clisham, in saying that they feel the same way. It was an extraordinary evening highlighted by a Spirit-filled, high-energy keynote address by our Presiding Bishop. . . . More than 700 attended in person and more than 100 attended online. The event raised more than $51,000 for Episcopal Community Services of the Diocese of New Jersey. Wow!