The Bishop Search Profile for the Diocese of New Jersey was the document that was used to provide information about the diocese to the wider church as part of the bishop search process in 2022. It was read by clergy and lay leaders alike, shared, prayed over, and absorbed by me and many others as we discerned together who would be the Thirteenth Bishop of New Jersey.
The document was well done. The Search and Nominating Committee presented something that was both a clear statement about who we are as a diocese, and about the needs, concerns, and hopes of our church. While there is much about that document that is compelling and helpful as I step into this role, one phrase in particular stood out: you were seeking a bishop with “a palpable sense of hope.”
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. As a diocese, our expenses far exceed our income, and the current pattern is not sustainable for the long term. Our support for congregations, lay leaders, and clergy is well-intentioned but it is not always as effective as we hope it could be. All our congregations were changed by the covid-19 pandemic, and some have been deeply harmed by the loss of people and resources over the past three and a half years. And, while we remain committed to the gospel call to beloved community, our world is still deeply divided. Injustice, violence, and poverty harm many in our congregations and communities. Each of these concerns requires attention and care as we move forward, as does each of our congregations.
I am still getting to know you, and you are still getting to know me. I am also still getting to know our diocese, our state, and our congregations, and I have questions. Where are you seeing signs of growth and hope? Where is God at work in your congregation and in the wider community? What are the patterns of growth in our cities and neighborhoods today and what is emerging for the future? Where are the opportunities, and where are the challenges?
I would like to begin to explore these questions with the wider diocesan community. I will share more when we resume the monthly Town Hall zoom meetings in early September, and I am working with our convocation deans, clergy and lay leaders to find time to be present in each region of the diocese, to connect, share and learn together For now, I remain committed to hopeful action, to engaging with these difficult and life-giving questions, and to building relationships across our wonderful diocese. I hope and pray that you are also finding hope in God’s presence and in the mission and ministry we share.
The Right Reverend Sally J. French
Bishop of New Jersey