Episcopal Diocese of Washington

Engaging a changing world with
an enduring faith in Jesus Christ

Bishop's Writings

To Grow in Love: Perseverance

July 12, 2018

Dr. Lisa Kimball (holding certificate)

“When you get right down to it, it's the only purpose grand enough for a human life: not just to love, but to persist in love.”  
Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees

This is the fifth reflection in a summer series I’ve entitled To Grow in Love.

In his sermon at the Royal wedding, and every sermon he’s preached before and since, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry reminds us that sacrificial love has the power to transform lives and heal our world. Yet that kind of love is, by definition, difficult and costly. My question this summer: How do you and I grow in our capacity for such love, perfectly revealed to us in Jesus?

As the General Convention moves toward its conclusion, I’m reminded that growth in love requires perseverance. Among the thousands of Episcopalians gathered, I have seen how the faithful practice of love over time shapes a human heart. Through the ones who persevere, the love of Jesus shines in and through their humanity.

Perseverance is evident in the work of General Convention itself. In the first few days, all engaged in the legislative process felt the enormity and complexity of our task. More than once I wondered how we could possibly work through some of the truly divisive issues before us. But through prayer and perseverance—people showing up in committees, hearings, and late night conversations, supported by countless saints working behind the scenes—the process has moved forward. What seemed impossible one day was accomplished the next. Where we were in danger of falling into old patterns of conflict, a new foundation emerged upon which nearly all could stand.

Even more inspiring have been the quiet examples of persevering love in our midst. On Sunday morning, for example, the Episcopal Church Women (ECW) honored a woman from each diocese for her distinguished life of service. From the Diocese of Washington, Ms. Paula Singleton received well-deserved recognition for the breadth of her ministry. Later in the week, another EDOW lay leader, Dr. Lisa Kimball, was honored for her steadfast commitment to faith formation. Lisa is among the most beloved leaders in our Church because of her faithful, persevering love, and in particular for her mentoring of young people.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and Bishop Griselda Delgado / Bishop Griselda Delgado and Bishop Mariann Budde

All at General Convention were moved to tears when the Episcopal Church of Cuba was officially welcomed back home. You see, over 50 years ago, in the wake of the Cuban Revolution, the House of Bishops voted to remove the Episcopal Church of Cuba. Through years of intense persecution, Episcopalian Christians in Cuba quietly persevered. As the political climate in Cuba has grown more accepting of religion, the Episcopal Church has grown in vitality and public witness, guided by the inspired leadership of Bishop Griselda Delgado. This week we were privileged to cast our unanimous vote to receive Cuba back into the Episcopal Church. In her words to the Convention, Bishop Griselda paid tribute to the generations of Cuban Christians who persevered in the hardest of times. 

Women Leaders of the Episcopal Church  surround Bishop Griselda Delgado

One final example: I attended a worship service to celebrate and mark the end of the Episcopal Women’s Caucus. The Caucus was founded in 1971 by brave, loving and persistent people who believed that women could be called to the priesthood. For more than four decades, the EWC has advocated for women to be priests and bishops. It’s hard to remember now how strongly the Church fought against women’s ordination. Were it not for the fierce and faithful advocacy of the EWC, there would not be women leadership at all levels of the church today. But now, its leaders discerned that it was time for their ministry to end, allowing space for rising generations to find new ways to respond to God’s call. Sometimes perseverance in love means letting go.

To persevere in love is not easy, but those committed to the way of love accept suffering as part of the cost. St. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “We know that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” Such is the life of one who is committed to following Jesus. As we follow him, we received grace to grow in our capacity to love and to persevere.

Our Presiding Bishop, whose leadership here at General Convention and beyond is persevering love personified, often encourages with the words of Negro spirituals: “Hold on,” he’ll say, “Stay strong. Keep your eyes on the prize. Hold on.”  

Jesus is with us, holding us up, leading us on. He’s with you, wherever you are, as you face whatever challenges lie before you. It’s his strength we can lean on; his love that perseveres in and for us.
 

The Way of Love: Practices for a Jesus-Centered Life

July 05, 2018


Jesus said, ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches.

 John 15:1-4

I write from Austin, Texas, at the Episcopal Church’s General Convention. There is already much to share with you from this gathering of Episcopalians from around the country and the world. Our deputation is energized, working hard to share our gifts and bring back learnings to the Diocese of Washington.

This morning the Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preached a sermon that was the culmination of months’ worth of prayer and collaborative effort among many in the Church (including several from EDOW) and that sets the stage for the next three years of his tenure.

Reflecting on Jesus’ words at the Last Supper, he encouraged each one of us, as members of the Episcopal Church, to join him in committing to specific spiritual practices, The Way of Love: Practices for a Jesus Centered Life.

I cannot urge you strongly enough to listen to the Presiding Bishop’s sermon. It is as powerful or more than his sermon at the Royal Wedding.

Drawing from the deep wells of spiritual wisdom and practice from our Church, he calls all to a living faith, with practices to help us go deeper in love for Jesus and to live in ways that embody Jesus’ love for others and for our world.

After you listen to his words, you can visit the Episcopal Church’s website, where you will find carefully curated materials that will help us all. While there are surely things we can explore together, for now I simply encourage you to consider these practices for yourself. How would it feel to commit to them?

To Grow In Love: The Company We Keep

June 28, 2018

 Presiding Bishop Michael Curry with member of the band U2

Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Philippians 4:8

My husband and I recently went to see the documentary film Pope Francis: A Man of His Word, which I had already seen once and would gladly watch again. In the words of  Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, “It is uplifting when someone who says he is a Christian actually behaves like one.”  

Our beloved Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is experiencing now a similar level of global admiration for his joyful, courageous, compelling Christian witness. Like Pope Francis, he is pointing us all to the love of Jesus, and how the world is changed for the better whenever someone chooses to live a Jesus-centered life.

As summer begins in earnest, I encourage you to spend time with the people who inspire you, and in particular, to draw strength and courage from the witness of inspiring Christians. We would be made of stone not to be sometimes discouraged, given the challenges we face and the pain of our world. It’s easy to become cynical when we see how the Christian message of love is routinely distorted or ignored. But there is a communion of robust saints all around us. They show us that it’s possible to live, here and now, as Jesus would have us live--with joy and compassion, gratitude for all that is good and wholehearted commitment to change those things that break God’s heart and ours. They spur us on, as is written in the Letter to the Hebrews, “toward love and good deeds.”

If you’re looking for inspiring summer reading, I can suggest Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship, by Gregory Boyle. Boyle is a Jesuit priest and founder of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation, and re-entry program in the world. His book will make you laugh, cry and be proud to be a Christian. And he believes in the power of Christian witness:  

In a recent New Yorker profile of American Baptists, the congregation’s leadership resigned itself to the fact that “secular culture” would always be “hostile” to Christianity. I don’t believe this is true. Our culture is hostile only to the inauthentic living of the gospel. It sniffs out hypocrisy everywhere and knows when Christians aren’t taking seriously, what Jesus took seriously. It is, by and large, hostile to the right things. It actually longs to embrace the gospel of inclusion and nonviolence, of compassionate love and acceptance. Even atheists cherish such a prospect.

 Bryan Stevenson

Another compelling Christian witness is Bryan Stevenson founder of Equal Justice Initiative, and author of the book, Just Mercy. For years Stevenson has worked to overturn death penalty convictions, especially for juveniles and the mentally ill, More recently, he has focused on work of deep racial reconciliation in this country, which he insists must be rooted in an honest examination of our history.

Given the weight of his work and inevitable discouragement he faces every day, he is often asked how he manages to stay hopeful. Here is a typical reply:  

I really do believe in things I haven't seen. I actually believe that we can create communities in this country where people are less burdened by our history of racial inequality. I believe it, even though I haven't seen it, and I think that hope has real power in how you live and how you function. I don't think we're allowed, frankly, to get hopeless and beat down, and I think that's the upside to understanding our history. The more we understand the depth of that suffering, the more we understand the power of people to cope and overcome and survive. . . When you're surrounded by a community of witnesses, it inspires you to do things you might not otherwise be able to do.

I’m also inspired by the steady faithfulness and quiet joy of many people in our diocese. I hope that you know who you are. You are the ones who offer to help, without complaint; who show up or share your resources when others are in need, who pray then rise from prayer with renewed commitment to follow Jesus.  Thank you. 

Next week our diocesan deputation will be in Austin, Texas, at the Episcopal Church’s General Convention. We expect to be inspired by the Presiding Bishop, who will preach several times throughout the week. Those sermons will be live-streamed, and I invite you to watch on both July 5 and 7. He will invite us all to engage the spiritual practices of a Jesus-centered Life. 

I will write more about that next week. In the meantime, take time to seek out those who inspire you. Let their example renew your soul and strengthen your resolve be a person of faith, hope, and love.

Celebration of New Ministry at St. Mary Maglalene

June 23, 2018

Each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. Speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
Ephesians 4:7-13; 15-16

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.
John 15:9-16

I would like to begin with a word of admiration and gratitude for the people of St. Mary Magdalene, those who have served in leadership, been faithful in prayer, persevering in your commitment to follow Jesus and hold fast to the gift and responsibility of Christian community. You have weathered more than your share of storms, both in your personal journeys and as a community. Only you know what your life journey has required of you thus far, and yet you are here, singing, dancing, sharing life with one another. In the past year you have opened your hearts to welcome our newest Spanish language congregation, Misa Magdalena, a priceless gift of hospitality and community building.

I’d also like to acknowledge and thank Sarah’s family and friends, all who have loved and supported her on the remarkable journey of her life thus far. The more I learn about you, Sarah, the more amazed I am at where you have been, what you have been through, how God has been at work in and through you, and that you are here. And you are here, in no small part, because of the those who love you, those who have channels of grace and support, challenge and encouragement. I know how grateful you are for them.

I also acknowledge with gratitude our colleagues in ministry, your clergy partners in ministry in Central Montgomery County, throughout the Diocese of Washington, and our friends from other branches of the Christian faith. We are less without you, and we all abide from the same vine.

Finally, I give thanks to the Holy Spirit for bringing Sarah and the people of St. Mary Magdalene together. We would never have guessed it; could never, on our own, have orchestrated it. Yet here we are, celebrating a new chapter of Christian discipleship and ministry that is already bearing the first fruits of God’s blessing.

On more than one occasion, Sarah has said to me that she feels as if everything about her life has prepared her for St. Mary Magdalene, that she truly understands the power of being called to a particular place. In my Sunday visitation here a few months back, I could tell there was a power and a grace at work here that is truly of God. This new beginning honors the joys and struggles of the people here, and in Sarah’s own life, and opens you to new possibilities.

One of the great miracle stories in Jesus’ ministry tells of a time when a large crowd of people had gathered to hear Jesus preach and teach. At the end of that very long day, his disciples suggested that he dismiss the crowds and send them home, for there was no food for them to eat. In one version of the story, Jesus asks them what they had to offer; which wasn’t much, and in another, a young boy comes forward with his lunch. In both versions, what Jesus has to work with is a few loaves and some fish. In the version featuring the disciples, they are very worried about not having enough. In the version where the boy steps forward, the doesn’t seem worried at all. He’s happy to share. In both accounts, you recall, Jesus takes the loaves and fish, asks God’s blessing, and in some miraculous way, all in their crowd eat their fill, with food to spare.

Sometimes I think if that were the only story we had about Jesus and his ministry, it would be enough to teach us about what it means to follow him. For what Jesus asks his followers, and asks us now, is to offer what we have, no matter how small our offerings seem to us in the face of great need, and to allow Jesus to do what only he can do. The amazing thing is that he seems to need our offering. He wants us to know we are part of the miracle, that our gifts are of great value.  

In the version with the young boy, after the story continues and everyone has eaten, Jesus instructs his disciples to gather up the fragments, so that none may be lost. That, I believe, is what Jesus says to you each day, people of St. Mary Magdalene. With Sarah as your spiritual leader and friend: gather up the fragments, all the bits and pieces of your lives and histories, all joys and sorrows, so that nothing is lost. Everything about you--who you are, where you have been, what you have experienced, your gifts and your broken places--is precious to God. There are no throwaway people in the Kingdom of God. The circle is wide enough for everyone.

As you experience the way Jesus gathers you up, so that nothing about your life and life story is lost, you cannot help but want to do the same for others, drawing your circle wider to invite others to share in the blessing you have received. While it’s not easy work, it’s not a burden any longer, but rather your great joy.

On this day of new beginning, I have but a few words of encouragement and, if I may, of exhortation.

First: Dare to believe that you are not only God’s beloved, but those whom Jesus is pleased to call his friends. Jesus is your friend--one who cares for you far more than he cares about what he might receive from you. While he cannot, as you well know, spare you from the storms and heartaches of this life, he is with you, always. Nothing about you is insignificant to him. In the words of one of the earliest church fathers, “The glory of God is the human person fully alive.”

Jesus wants that for you.

Make your friendship with Jesus a priority. For those of us who are in our elder years, it’s tempting to imagine that we already know all there is to know about him, that there are no surprises in store for us. Nothing could be further from truth. On the contrary: he calls each one of us, every day, to know and love him, and to become more like him in love, in our capacity for forgiveness, and to give of ourselves in service to others. What might you do to deepen your friendship to God as revealed to us in Jesus?

Second, go deeper in friendship with one another as well. You are blessed with the gift of extraordinary diversity--as the nearly 40 flags in today’s procession clear demonstrates. That diversity is a source of strength and love. But you don’t need me to tell you that there are also challenges, as you bump up against different life experiences, opinions on how to run the church, styes and practices of worship. Find ways to listen deeply to each other’s stories. Share your lives together. Pray with and for one another.

Third, lean into joy whenever you experience it. There is so much hardship and struggle in life and in the world, so much sorrow to hold and respond to. But there is also joy, laughter, and dancing. They are what sustain us.  They are also precious fragments to be gathered up and cherished. Jesus cannot promise us a joyful world in which to live, but he can give us joy in the midst of the world as it is. How we need that joy now.

Finally, hear again Jesus’ words again about fruitfulness: “I chose you,” he says to you, dear Sarah and the people of St. Mary Magdalene. “And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.”

Think of all that is required for a tree or a plant to bear fruit. It needs rich and nourishing soil. It needs pruning from time to time, and careful attention to changing weather and seasons. If I were so bold as to make a guess, this is a new spring for you, after a long winter.

So pay attention to the tasks of spring. Tend to your soil. Marvel at the new buds of growth and invest in the rising generations, and give thanks for the first fruits, with their promise of an even more abundant harvest. Imagine what might be in a few years’ time.

You are not alone in this garden--we, your friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, are tending the soil right alongside you, and we’re here to help and pray. And today, we’re glad to celebrate this new season of life for the faithful of St. Mary Magdalene with your new rector, the Rev. Sarah Lamming.  

Love in Action for Immigrants and Refugees

June 21, 2018

 

Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.’
Matthew 19:14

The seven Latino congregations of the Diocese of Washington gathered for their annual summer picnic last weekend. It was, in many ways, like any church picnic. There were delicious food and games for the children. Blankets and chairs were spread out on the grass, where elders sat and talked. But the mood among those who are known for their joy was subdued.  

We watched the children take turns swatting a piñata until candy fell like rain. As they swarmed to collect their treasures and then began bartering among themselves, the adults assembled in a circle.  

Naturally, they wanted to talk about what we’re all talking about--the families being separated at the border and the children detained alone without human embrace. Many of our people made a similar border crossing under equally traumatic circumstances, fleeing their homes not because they wanted to, but because they had no choice.

The damage to individuals and families from such treatment is incalculable, and our Latino brothers and sisters are visibly shaken by this latest expression of increasingly harsh treatment of those seeking safety in the United States.

Our conversation shifted to what’s happening to our people here. We spoke at length about one family in particular—active members at Church of the Ascension in Gaithersburg. The father, Fredy Diaz, was taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) early one morning as he was on his way to work. He and his wife have three children, who are left without his income to meet family expenses and have no means to pay for his legal defense. (See Latino Missioner Sarabeth Goodwin’s article here.)

Some of our teenagers and young adults, and many of their peers are among the Dreamers whose legal status is in jeopardy. Many of our members have lost their protected legal status in the last year--some who have lived, worked, and raised their families here for a decade or more--and they don’t know what to do. How can they possibly return to the countries where so many are desperate to flee levels of violence and poverty unimaginable to most Americans?

Such questions are not only being asked in our Latino congregations, but also in our other immigrant-rich congregations, where members of the African diaspora face the same status vulnerabilities as so many Latin American immigrants who tend to dominate national headlines. The immigration crisis affecting our country, however--and our diocese--is not limited to one demographic, but many. How are we to care for one another, as siblings in Christ?

I assured our Latino brothers and sisters that they were not alone, that across the diocese we are praying for them in love and are eager to widen the circle of support for those in need. I told them that religious and civic leaders are speaking out against current immigration policies in larger numbers than ever before, and that we would continue to do so. It is my hope and prayer, I said, that the border separations would, at last, cause sufficient public outcry to bring about a change.

Thankfully President Trump has retreated now from the policy of separating families at the border. Yet the fate of the 2,300 children already in detention is not clear, nor do we fully understand the implications of what will happen next. The executive order signed yesterday (June 20) does not solve the crisis. But those of us fighting with the immigrant community can see it as a shift that has occurred in direct response to our public outcry.

To the many in the diocese who have contacted me in the last week wanting to do more both to offer support for immigrant and refugee families and to mobilize for a more humane immigration policy: thank you. I am proud to serve as your bishop. This is not a partisan issue that divides us. It is a moral concern that unites us as Americans, as people of faith, and especially for those of us who follow Jesus.

The truth is that family separation has been happening daily far before the recent crisis at the border that detained children separate from their parents. Family separation happens each day a parent is unjustly detained by ICE for no crime other than trying to live their life faithfully in the country they’ve called home for decades. These are families like that of Fredy Diaz, and these are our siblings in Christ.

We are not powerless in the face of such pain and suffering. Christ is with us, to the end of the age, and the Holy Spirit, working in us, can do infinitely more than we could ask for or imagine. But Christ does need us--ours are the hands with which he works, ours the feet on which he moves; ours the voices with which he speaks to this world.

Here are several concrete things we can do, right now, to help ease someone’s burden or to mobilize for change.

  • We are establishing an Immigrant Relief Fund at the diocesan office, to be used to help families with economic support and legal fees when someone in our diocesan community is detained. If you would like to make a contribution, go here, or mail a check to Church House with “Immigrant Relief Fund” noted in the memo line.

  • As members of the Episcopal Church, we are blessed with leadership through our Office of Government Relations. Listed on their immigration action page are a number of specific actions we can take, both in response to the immediate crisis and to educate ourselves on the complex issues of immigration reform, and commit ourselves to long term solutions.

  • I am proud that the diocese voted at our annual convention this past January to become a sanctuary diocese. As has previously been shared in our weekly e-news, the work of our Sanctuary Sub-committee in equipping our communities to "to serve as places of welcome and healing, and to provide other forms of material and pastoral support" to immigrants, is ongoing. If your community has not considered getting involved yet, you might want to visit our sanctuary page or contact Latino Missioner Sarabeth Goodwin about how members of our Sanctuary Sub-committee can support your community’s discernment process.

  • Finally, do not underestimate the power of your prayers and the grief that God has placed on your heart. Allow God to speak to you and through you in this time, and be guided by what the Holy Spirit places in your heart.

One day our children and grandchildren will look back on this era’s treatment of refugee and immigrant children--much like we look back now on the more shameful chapters of our history. They may ask us what we did to work for change. I’m grateful to serve among so many who are speaking out, offering to help those most affected, and doing all you can to end this latest and most cruel policy of separating traumatized children from their parents. You are Christ’s love in action, his hands and feet, and compassionate heart in this world.

 

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