Loaves and Fish and the Next Courageous Step
January 29, 2018
Address by Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde at the 123rd Diocesan Convention on January 27, 2018 at Washington National Cathedral. [Watch video here]
Taking the five loaves and the two fish, Jesus looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and Jesus divided the two fish among them all. And all ate and were filled.
Our God is both faithful and fruitful.
Jesus, whose love for us knows no bounds, is faithful. He has chosen us in love, and calls us to live as closely to him as branches to the vine. He sends us out to bear fruit,but our fruitfulness isn't up to us alone or, in the end, even about us. Fruitfulness comes from making more room in our lives for God to work, offering to Jesus what we have and allowing him to work miracles.
It takes courage to receive God's love, to draw close to Jesus, and to make our offerings through him.
You should know something about me, if you don't already. I am not, by nature, a courageous person, but have learned to trust in the miracle of the loaves and fish. My faith story, and my experience of serving as your bishop, is a continual evidence of Jesus' capacity to make miracles of abundance from my insufficient offering. Were it not for the miracle of the loaves and fish, lived out every day in my life, I would not be here. Every time I hear Jesus invite me to offer what I have, knowing full well that it's not enough to meet whatever need is before me, I am as anxious as the disciples must have felt when they stood before a hungry crowd with just bit of food. Then he says, "Look at me. Offer me what you have for their sake then get out of the way and let me do what I do."
In preparation for today, I've been collecting what can only be described as EDOW loaves and fish miracle stories, and there are many. Time won't permit me to tell them all, but please allow these stories to bring to mind how God has been at work in and through you. I encourage you to take out a pen and paper to take notes and follow up with someone mentioned here who might be of help to you or seems to be in alignment with your experiences, so that you might make your offering together and see what Jesus can do.
The first EDOW loaves and fish miracle is right here in the place where we are gathered. May God be praised for the transformation of Washington National Cathedral under the leadership of Dean Randy Hollerith and the Cathedral team. Much of their work we can't see, because it's in the strengthening of the foundation for healthy ministry. A Cathedral like this needs a strong foundation. Through the offerings of many and what Jesus is doing through them, the Cathedral is building a strong spiritual, material, financial, and leadership foundation for ministry. The Cathedral team, lay and ordained, staff and volunteer, have worked tirelessly to reach out to us in the diocese, to the city of Washington in all its grace and complexity, to this nation at a time of great polarization, and offer the unique gifts of this place for the greater good. The Cathedral community has undertaken courageous soul searching through two significant efforts regarding its public ministry, which we will hear more about later. For now, I ask you to join me in thanking the Cathedral leadership for their hospitality this weekend and whenever we gather as diocesan community.
Here are other loves and fish miracle stories from across the diocese:
In November 2017, the congregations of St. George's, Valley Lee, and Ascension, Lexington Park, gathered to celebrate and bless a new ministry relationship between them with the call of the Rev. Greg Syler to be rector of both congregations.
This is the not the first, nor the last, of such creative partnerships in the diocese. While remaining independent congregations, Ascension and St. George's now come together for worship during holy seasons and for Christian formation. Last summer's combined Vacation Bible School served 42 children, and yes, that is the rector in a superhero costume.
Each endeavor was stronger, more joyful and more fruitful because they worked together. They also began a new ministry in their community that neither church could have accomplished alone: an after-school tutoring program for 1st and 2nd grade students of a nearby elementary school with a high concentration of poverty. Members of both congregations are now in daily contact with their neighbors, sharing Jesus' love for their children.
But Greg told me that the biggest impact of their collaboration is this: the fact that the business of church is no longer the mission of the church. Sharing a rector, parish administrator, and related administrative costs--which is more than 60% of both operating budgets--has eased the financial burden on both congregations. The vestries now meet on the same night and are exploring way to share even more expenses, so that instead of running deficits every year, they may well have a $10,000 - $15,000 surplus which will enable them to invest in new initiatives.
The leaders would be the first to say that the change hasn't been easy, but what they are striving for is increased fruitful ministry through the grace of God and their combined efforts. What's more, the congregational leaders have become good friends. Together, they are the body of Christ; they are a loaves and fish miracle.
On the other end of the Diocese, Northern Montgomery County is experimenting with a shared youth ministry initiative. The youth ministries of these congregations are small, yet faithful. Last year, the Rev. Shivaun Wilkinson offered to organize a once-a-month joint gathering, and to serve as a resource for the congregations. Now 15-20 youth gather monthly for service and social activities, with hopes of offering opportunities for spiritual mentoring and deepening friendship across congregations.
The ministry of feeding body and soul is central to a new ministry at St. Peter's, Poolesville. A few years ago, they reached out to Poolesville High School, just down the street, and offered to provide lunch for students going without food in the middle of the day for financial reasons. They called the ministry Just Lunch and expected they would feed 20-30 students, but there's more than one kind of hunger, and it was more than "just lunch" that they were offering. Students flock to St. Peter's, not only for the free lunch, but the warm welcome and sense of peace they find there. On average, they provide lunch and kindness to 100 students every day. It's been a bit overwhelming, but it's also a loaves and fishes miracle. God is faithful, and the community of Poolesville has rallied to support St. Peter's, and together they are making a difference in the lives of students.
Both endeavors, Northern Montgomery County Youth and Just Lunch are funded, in part, by diocesan congregational growth grants made possible by our collective decision to move toward a congregational tithe to support diocesan ministry, increasing one percentage point per year. Thank you.
Let's take a moment to celebrate what you have offered and what God can do through your offerings: In 2016, 33 congregations increased by 1 percentage point; last year 22 did so. And two-thirds of the congregations who have submitted their pledges for 2018 are either tithing or have joined the one percent club. What we're doing is gradually chipping away at our collective dependence on income from the Soper Fund, and investing those resources in congregational initiatives. In the last two years, we've redirected more than $300,000 to help fund ministry experiments throughout the diocese. With each endeavor, we're learning what bears fruit in this changing ministry landscape.
Here is another miracle: In Southeast DC, the members of Church of the Atonement have responded to Jesus' call to love their neighbors by establishing the Atonement Young Adult Employment Ministry. Their goal is to address the high unemployment and social isolation among young adults of color in their neighborhood. They provide job readiness training and entry level placement, and with ongoing mentoring and skill certification, they are offering so much more. The rector, Jocelyn Irving, says, "We are here to love these young people, pray with them, and teach them the skills they need. When they fall, we're here to pick them back up."
Senior Warden Obie Pinckney told me, "This is the strongest evangelistic tool I have ever witnessed. Jesus is changing lives." Atonement has now reached out to Church of the Epiphany in Forestville, their closest neighbor, with hopes for ministry partnership and expansion into Prince George's County. Mr. Pinckney said that the growth grant Atonement received was key to their early success.
On the northern end of Prince George's County, the rector of St. Philip's, Laurel, the Rev. Dr. Sheila McJilton, and several lay leaders felt the call to help their people go deeper in relationship to Christ. Like many of our churches, St. Philip's does a lot of outreach, but they have a harder time talking about Jesus, even with each other.
So last fall, on Saturday evenings, St. Philip's offered an Alpha Course--a series of presentations on basic Christian beliefs in the context of a meal and table conversation. Thirty people regularly showed up. One parishioner, a long-time member said: "We sit in pews and worship every week, but I so appreciate having the chance to sit across a table to talk and about our faith." By the end of the fifth session, participants were openly praying for each other. The Saturday night gathering continues, re-named Philip's Table, as a time of faith exploration, prayer, and hospitality.
Another thing about St. Philip's that you should know. A year ago, the church received a generous bequest. They prayed hard about how God would have them invest this windfall treasure for the Kingdom of God. They decided to use some for strategic leadership development, hiring a beloved seminarian as assistant to the rector for the next 2 years. They also decided right away to tithe their gift, including giving nearly $100,000 to the diocese for congregational growth initiatives. We, in turn, used those resources to partner with two other congregations so that they could hire graduating EDOW seminarians as priest interns for two years. Through St. Philip's generosity, the Rev. Serena Sides is serving at Christ Church, Capitol Hill; and the Rev. Richard Weinberg at St. Margaret's, D.C.
As more resources from the Soper Fund become available for ministry investment, our goal is to ensure that all EDOW-sponsored seminarians can come back for a two-year internship, allowing their gifts--that we affirmed as what we need in future clergy--to bear fruit here.
While Christ Church, Capitol Hill has a growing ministry among younger families, there we also focused on the largest and fastest growing demographic in the country and in our congregations: those 70 years and older. Eldership is spiritual terrain largely unexplored. The gifts of eldership are often overlooked because of the inevitable and often painful losses that accompany aging and our culture's obsession with youth. Where do we go to talk honestly about the loss? What is our offering when we are blessed with long life? Remember not everyone is.
Last summer, Seabury Services for the Aging, and one of our deacons, the Rev. Susan Walker, piloted an offering entitled, Sightlines: Spirituality and Purpose for the Way Ahead. Twenty people from the church and neighborhood participated each week in August. Twenty people in August. That got our attention.
Sightlines will be offered again next month in a collaborative venture between two congregations in Southern Montgomery County--Grace and Church of the Ascension in Silver Spring. Imagine if the Episcopal Church became known as the place where eldership is celebrated, and where rising generations experience love and generosity from their elders. We are inviting rising deacons who sense a call to elder ministry, and others, to participate with us, so that through their leadership, we might offer eldership ministries throughout the diocese.
Speaking of deacons--we all should be in awe of what God is doing in our midst. We now have a comprehensive deacon's program, led by Archdeacon Sue von Rautenkranz and the Deacon's Leadership Team.
An extraordinary group of men and women have heard God's call and answered it. We now have 10 deacons serving in parishes, 12 more to be ordained in September, and 9 in the first stages of their formation. In just a few years we will have deacons serving in every region of the diocese. This is a significant diocesan commitment, which you will see reflected in staffing and budgeting allocations, but what a fruitful investment.
I'm moving into more challenging terrain now, as I must. For one of the things that happens to us as followers of Jesus is that we're often called to show up where the love of God is needed most; and where the justice closest to God's heart needs our hearts, our hands and feet. And that can messy. The work is hard. But when we don't show up, Jesus doesn't have our offering to work with, and our absence communicates to the world a message of indifference that is counter to the gospel.
I thank God that He has placed concerns for racial justice on the hearts of many EDOW congregations this year. In Lent three Central DC congregations—St. Luke's, St. Margaret's, and St. Thomas'—met together to take a deep dive into issues of racial justice, reading Jim Wallis' book: America's Original Sin. This fall, All Souls in Woodley Park have joined them, and together they convene a monthly gathering, Thirsting for Justice.
Other congregations, including the Cathedral, have held forums and workshops. Some are examining their congregation's racial history, which is not easy, given that many of our churches were surely built by slaves and their balconies were essentially slave quarters. Members of our churches were on both sides of the Civil War. They participated in forced segregation and the rise of Jim Crow. Several of our African American congregations were birthed in these tumultuous years and were both a spiritual sanctuary and leadership schools for their communities. The Civil Rights Era was another great wave of transformation and struggle, and our churches were in the middle of it all--on all sides. White suburban flight, the disappearance of urban jobs, the city riots. We were right there. Congregations in now predominantly black neighborhoods were once white churches in white neighborhoods. Some of those neighborhoods are changing again, and people of color are in the suburbs and those white flight churches are now multicultural. Many of our churches have benefited from the great immigration from African and Caribbean nations and from Spanish speaking countries. There are blessings and challenges. There are deep historical wounds and great gifts. Race is one of the great fault lines in our country and our diocese. We have issues to talk about. We need Jesus to get us to the Beloved Community.
I want to say something about the Cathedral Chapter's decision to remove windows, placed in the nave in the 1950s, exalting the lives of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. The entire decision making process was undertaken with extraordinary care. I want to thank everyone in the diocese and the Cathedral community who let your views be known. You helped us realize that in a Cathedral that strives to be a house of prayer for all people, symbols and icons from the slave era have no place in its sanctuary. Moreover, as racial issues have intensified in our time and Confederate symbols have direct associations with white supremacist groups, it was clear that the windows needed to be removed. They are now in storage, waiting for the right time for placement in an appropriate historical setting somewhere on the Cathedral grounds. In good time, the Cathedral will commission artists to imagine what new windows could say to us about God's dream of racial reconciliation in our land.
Both the Diocese of Washington and Washington National Cathedral are aligning ourselves with a church-wide initiative our Presiding Bishop calls: Becoming the Beloved Community. The next few months are rich with opportunities for us all to go deeper in this holy work as we approach the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King. Trusting in God, speaking with both courage and compassion, we can help bring our nation to a deeper awareness, repentance and the reconciliation God longs for.
Another place where God's love is surely needed, and where some of us feel called to show up, is in response to our country's epidemic of gun violence and to help heal the wounds it causes. There have been 13 school shootings in 2018, all in the month of January.
Every year in December, family members of the children killed at Sandy Hook elementary school come to Washington DC to speak to their congressional representatives, on the anniversary of the shooting. Survivors and family members from other shootings now join them. Every December St. Mark's, Capitol Hill hosts the Newtown Action Alliance providing, as they do for all manner of people who make their way to Washington, respite and welcome. (You should know that this time last year, St. Mark's offered hospitality to those who came to celebrate the inauguration of President Trump and on the next day, to those who came for the Women's March.)
On the anniversary of Sandy Hook last month, St. Mark's sanctuary was filled to capacity with grieving people, gathered in song and prayer. Yet the tender love and firm resolve to rid the world of such tragedy was awe inspiring. I remain part of a national coalition of red and blue state bishops determined to help our nation find a way to end the gun violence epidemic while protecting basic 2nd Amendment rights. We can do this, and we must.
Gun violence is not the only public health crisis in our land. Another of our congregations took the courageous step to be present in a place of suffering that few of us have been willing to acknowledge. St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Waldorf sponsored a community-wide meeting to talk about the opioid crisis in Charles County. In the words of the rector, the Rev. Dr. Maria Kane, "People are hiding in the shadows of our communities filled with shame. Our task is to remove the stigma of opioid addiction and respond with compassion to our neighbors and family members." As with gun violence, the opioid epidemic seems overwhelming, but when we as church show up, acknowledge what's happening in our own families and join in solidarity with others, Jesus can work through our offering and the world changes.
Still another way our church shows up is among immigrant populations. For we are an immigrant church. 34 of our 88 congregations are multicultural. We have 7 congregations offering worship in Spanish.
2017 was a challenging year to be an immigrant in this country. A large percentage of our immigrant members are citizens and legal residents. Some are undocumented, but many have been able to work or go to school legally through the Temporary Protected Status and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival programs. Now they are at risk of deportation to countries devastated by war and poverty. But in our congregations, people find support, love, community--sanctuary in the full sense of the world. You should know that St. Matthew's/San Mateo is one of the largest congregations in the diocese, worshipping with as many as 600 on a Sunday, and consistently present at Cathedral confirmations with the largest classes each year.
One of the great EDOW miracle stories of this year was the establishment of our newest worshipping community, Misa Magdalena. God first gave the vision to Missioner Sarabeth Goodwin and several families in the Aspen Hill neighborhood of Silver Spring. They were warmly embraced by St. Mary Magdalene Church, and we now have a bilingual community in one of the most densely populated Latino neighborhoods in the metro region. Many Latinos of Aspen Hill own their homes and businesses.
Misa Magdalena is funded, in part, by a 3-year $100,000 grant from the wider Episcopal Church. That grant, along with two smaller grants we have received, was possible due to our commitment to meet dioceses across the country at a mandatory 15% giving to the wider church.
Another EDOW miracle story is the Bishop Walker School, which may well rank, along with Samaritan Ministry of Greater Washington, as the most broad ranging collaborative endeavor of the diocese. We'll hear more about the Bishop Walker School's new home later today as together we celebrate its 10th anniversary.
The final EDOW miracle I'll mention in this address is the establishment of a new commission dedicated to the financial health of our congregations. Called into being at last year's Convention, in its first year the Strategic Financial Resource Commission has assisted 24 congregations with annual giving campaigns and has entered into a long-term relationship with 6 congregations in a pilot project to build comprehensive financial capacity.
This is a long term initiative, one that I will support through my entire episcopate. It simply cannot serve God and the Kingdom for our ministries to be chronically underfunded or overwhelmed by building maintenance and the anxieties of declining membership. While our challenges are many, we're already seeing that there are proactive, strategic steps to help turn the trends of decline around.
In 2018, the Commission's work continues. As noted in your information handout, we've scheduled two more annual giving workshops, and a planned giving workshop, and Commission members are always available for consultations and support. It even has a booth here at the Convention, so you can begin the conversation today.
It's been quite a year, and we've come a long way together. God willing, we have a long journey ahead of us. I came into my episcopate with a 20 year vision and that has not changed.
Shifting to a sports metaphor now: in this, my 7th year as your bishop, I feel called to encourage us all to take a 7th inning stretch in the first game in a doubleheader.
In fact, why don't you all stand up right and stretch right now?
Our diocesan mission statement focuses diocesan energy and resources in three major areas:
- Growing Christian Community
- Connecting Spirituality to Everyday Life (Christian discipleship)
- Striving for Justice
We have, and will continue to devote considerable energy, in the work of justice. Given who and where we are, justice work is non-negotiable. As the Presiding Bishop said recently, "Followers of Jesus do not leave the world the way they find it. Followers of Jesus change the world." I believe that. I'm standing here because of people who came before me determined to change the world for women. That world-changing work continues.
But this year, this 7th inning stretch year, I ask you to lean into those areas of ministry that build up your joy, that feed your souls, that create Christian communities so compelling that others will be drawn to us because of the love, passion, and support they feel in our presence.
This is joy building, soul feeding ministry we can do more easily with each other, as we've worked to align ourselves toward one another and explore ways to share the work and multiply the fruits.
That will be a primary focus of your diocesan staff, including your bishop, in 2018. We are here to help nurture and cultivate the seeds of life God is sowing in and among you. We are all focused on building up the body of Christ--that's you, all of you, together.
So when God gives you a new idea, stop and ask yourselves, with whom could we partner to more fruitfully realize this dream? Know that we will be doing the same. Each congregation has auxiliary staff in your diocesan team, people who get up every day and ask the question, How can we be of help? How we can build up the Body of Christ? As we do this work together, I promise you, our communities will grow.
Speaking as your pastor now, I urge you to lean into our second priority, which is drawing closer to Jesus, and to taking the next courageous step in faithfulness to where he's leading you. Not everyone's next step will be the same. For you, it might be small steps or a a great leap of faith. I don't know.
I do know this, from personal experience: trying to be faithful and fruitful apart from Jesus is exhausting. Most of my failures and mistakes occur not because I'm not trying hard enough, but rather when I'm trying too hard, on my own. I wonder for how many of you the same is true. We could all use encouragement and gentle accountability in our daily walk with God.
This year, I ask each of you to join me in making your life of prayer a top priority. Commit, or recommit, to the daily and weekly practices of prayer. Last night at Upbeat, and today on your chairs we passed out SpiritTrip cards with the exhortation to pray and read Scripture every day.
Let me be more specific: set aside 10 to 15 minutes each day, to sit, or walk, or ride your bike or walk your dog--in silence--offering to God the prayers of your heart, then stop and say, in the words of Scripture, "Now speak, Lord, for your servant is listening." Spend time daily pondering the words of Scripture so that you not only read the Bible, but that through the stories and teachings of our sacred texts, Jesus might speak to you. Some of you, I know, are seasoned at prayer and guides for the rest of us. We need your guidance, and your best creative energies.
To you church leaders--clergy, vestry members, and diocesan delegates--I ask you to return to your congregations and commit with me to providing resources for your people, so that it's clear to everyone that prayer, our personal relationships to God in Christ and daily reading of Scripture, are of highest priority.
Everytime I visit you, I will encourage you in daily prayer and Scripture study. One of my greatest sources of inspiration, the Rev. Adam Hamilton, begins every Sunday sermon with an invitation to take a "Grow Pray Study Guide" from the bulletins and use it in their daily prayer. It also comes to them via email and app. We can do the same.
On your "Taking the Next Courageous Step" sheet are ways to bring the Convention back to your communities. You'll find suggested tools for prayer, in English and in Spanish. If you don't already have a prayer and scripture practice in place for the Lent and Easter seasons, one possibility is for you to join, with the Presiding Bishop, with me, and others throughout the church in the Good Book Club, o en español el club biblico, a daily guided, prayerful reading of the Gospel of Luke and Acts. There are others resources as well, and one goal for your diocesan staff is to be a helpful curator of such resources.
There's something else I know about us. We don't give ourselves enough opportunities to honestly share about our lives and stories of faith and struggles with faith. The hunger to do is everywhere. That's why I've given each of you a pack of "faith sharing cards." Take them out now, please, so you can read some of the questions. Bring them with you to lunch today, sit down with someone else, or two someones, or three, and answer a few of the questions together, such as this one:
Jesus teaches us to love our neighbor as yourself. Share the story of a time in your life when this was especially challenging. How did you respond?
If you don't like that one, pick another:
Share an experience when your faith sustained you in a particularly difficult time or when your faith enabled you to help another person going through a difficult time.
How has your experience of Episcopal liturgy brought you closer to God?
Between now and next Convention, I invite all of you to engage in faith sharing conversations using these cards or some other means. Begin your church meetings with a few minutes of one-on-one conversations, asking the person next to you to pick a card and answer a question, and you do the same. Invite people to your homes to share a meal and stories of faith. I have done this at our home and the conversations have been inspiring and uplifting.
If we do these two things in the next year--commit to personal prayer and talking to one another about our faith--I am persuaded that we will be a different church when we gather together in 2019. They are simple, inexpensive, but not always easy. It takes courage to show up each day in prayer; courage to speak of our faith experiences and our struggles with faith, but the transformative potential is real.
As I bring this address to a close, let me express my gratitude for your gift of a three-month sabbatical this spring. I will use the time to renew my life of prayer, spend time with my family, and visit churches (not Episcopalian) within the bounds of our diocese that are thriving, in some cases right next door to us or down the street. I want to get to know our neighbors better, learn as much I can from them, and to share what I learn with you.
Before my sabbatical, I invite all who are interested to join me as I visit our Convention preacher's church, Mt. Ennon Baptist in Clinton, Maryland on February 28. Pastor Coates and his staff have generously offered to spend time with us and share what they have learned.
I will attend diocesan clergy conference while on sabbatical, because I've invited someone to speak with our clergy, Tony Morgan, who has dedicated his life to helping churches move from places of what he calls "stuckness" to a place of sustained health and strategic growth. There is more about him and other learning opportunities in your "taking Convention home" sheet.
My friends in Christ, I hope you know how deeply and completely God loves you, how far Jesus will go to be your savior, companion, and friend. I hope you know how important your offerings are, for without them Jesus has less to work with in this world.
I also hope you know how blessed I am to be among you. I ask your forgiveness for the ways I may hurt or disappoint you; I thank you for allowing me the great honor of service that humbles and challenges me every day. I believe God is leading us to a day when all of us will marvel at the faithfulness and fruitfulness of our congregations, schools, and ministries.
For the past year, I've used a particular blessing to close each worship service, and with the same blessing I end this address, inviting you to join me:
Christ has no body here but ours,
No hands and feet here on earth but ours.
Ours are the eyes with which he looks on this world with kindness.
Ours are the hands with which he works.
Ours are the feet on which he moves.
Ours the voices with which he speaks to this world with kindness.
Through our touch, our smile, our listening ear.
Embodied in us, Jesus is living here.
Let us go, then, filled with the Spirit, into this world with kindness.
Watch a video of Bishop Mariann's Convention Address here.