I am learning that a significant part of a bishop’s work is related to new beginnings. In our liturgies, the visitation is often a time to confirm people in their faith, to receive new members into the Episcopal Church, and to bless those who are reaffirming their commitment to Christ. When there are no confirmations, receptions, or reaffirmations scheduled, the bishop’s visit is an opportunity for the whole congregation to reaffirm their baptismal covenant. All of these are occasions for new beginnings, for God to work in and through us, to call forth new ministry and fresh starts, no matter where we are or what we are facing.
In my three weeks as your bishop, I have been blessed by opportunities to confirm, receive, reaffirm, and welcome. I am energized by the gifts and potential I see in our congregations, communities, and people, and by the commitment and love that both clergy and lay leaders have for God and for the mission of the church.
It is easy to see the new beginnings that happen through worship. At specific moments, we ask God’s presence upon a person in a new way, and by God’s grace, there are tangible signs of what is now possible. This happens in confirmation, reception, and reaffirmation, where participants can often name clearly how God has been working to draw them deeper into relationship and connection, as well as what new ministries or possibilities lie ahead.
I have a full schedule of visitations for this summer and I am looking forward to getting on the road and into churches all over our diocese. I’ve already visited Trinity Cathedral in Trenton, St. Peter’s-by-the-Light, Barnegat Light, and St. John’s, Avon-by-the-Sea. Each of these Sundays has been wonderful and unique. These visitations are helping me to see more clearly the gifts and opportunities within our Diocese.
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.
As I write, we are concluding the hottest week that human beings have measured in the history of this planet. The political divide continues to separate and polarize people, and hatred, bias, and discrimination are continuing to grow in our nation and around the world. There is a better way. Jesus is the better way. Our congregations can be places of hope, where the challenges of the world are met with both faith and action, and where God’s people find community, connection and love.
Earlier this week, It’s All About Love: A Festival for the Jesus Movement took place in Baltimore. More than 800 Episcopalians, including a group from our diocese, gathered to celebrate through worship, learning, action, and community. This followed the Episcopal Youth Event, a gathering of young people from across our denomination. This is powerful witness. When we stand together in and through Jesus Christ, we are strong, we are faithful, and God can – and does – act in new ways.
Can I ask you to do one thing this week? Pray for your congregation and its leadership, for the Diocese of New Jersey, and for the Episcopal Church, that our work to know and share the love of God will make a difference to our communities and our world, that we might be agents of healing and hope. Thank you, and God bless you.
The Right Reverend Sally J. French
Bishop of New Jersey