February 11, 2018
Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
Last week I sat down and read in its entirety one of the biblical accounts of Jesus’ life. I chose the Gospel of Luke, in order to prepare for a more prayerful, slower reading that our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, has invited all in the Episcopal Church to undertake, starting today and continuing throughout the 40 day-season of Lent, which begins on Wednesday. The Gospel of Luke is the first selection for the Episcopal Church’s “Good Book Club,” which will continue after Easter with the Acts of the Apostles, the sequel to Luke, that tells the story of the early church.
Obviously I was reading this week for breadth, not depth, taking in the entire arc of Jesus’ life and death. It took about two hours. Had I been reading the Gospel of Mark, I would have been done in less than an hour. For while the narrative of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is essentially the same in three of the four gospels--Matthew, Mark, and Luke--Mark’s is leaner than the other two, with more action, less of Jesus’ teachings. Something to keep in mind if when choosing which gospel to read.
All three accounts land at roughly the same place at the same time to tell the story that we just read from the Gospel of Mark. When I came to Luke’s telling of the story this week, I realized how much the importance of that fateful day, when Jesus took three of his closest disciples with him up a mountain, is amplified when we remember its place in the story.
To be sure, this wasn’t the first or the last time that Jesus went off to a secluded place to pray. That was his custom. He would go to a mountain or into the wilderness to pray. The texts rarely tell us what happened in his time of prayer, but in this instance they do, and we can understand why. For on that mountain, on that day, Jesus was swept up into a transcendent experience. He seemed to be transformed by light. He was visited by two of the great spiritual ancestors of his faith. A divine voice spoke from a cloud, as it had at his baptism, confirming his identity as God’s son.
This was, by all accounts, a big deal. Yet Jesus, Peter, James and John didn’t talk to anyone about it. As Mark tells the story, Jesus orders the others not to say anything until after his death. In Luke’s version, it says, “And they kept silent, and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.”
Why not? Why not speak of such an amazing an event, so confirming of Jesus’ identity as God’s chosen, so unambiguous in glory? Only with a wider lens are we given clues as to why Jesus and his disciples would choose to keep silent.
Remember that Jesus’ public ministry, which began after his baptism in the Jordan River and 40 days of temptation in the wilderness, took place in the towns and villages around the Sea of Galilee, where he grew up. He taught in synagogues and in open spaces; he healed people from diseases and cast our demons--the inner tormentors that, by whatever name we call them, can make life a living hell. He created quite a name for himself, established a large following, and made those in authority nervous, by what he said and did and how the crowds responded to him.
All through this time a question hovers in the air: Who is this man? He speaks with such authority and acts with such love. He has compassion for the outcast, the poor, and all manner of sinner. He prays to God Almighty as if he knows God intimately and encourages us to do the same. In his presence, there is healing, there is food in abundance, there is life.
The more time people spend around him, the more convinced they become that he was no ordinary man. If God Almighty were to visit us in human form, they concluded, this is what God would look like. And Jesus himself is not exactly discouraging this manner of thinking about him.
Imagine what hope would be stirred by such a man, such expectation for healing and liberation, such anticipation of God’s almighty power at last casting down the mighty from their thrones and lifting up the lowly. There was excitement in the air, the stirrings of a movement, maybe even a revolution.
But then, in a turn that no could have anticipated, Jesus began to speak quite openly about suffering. Specifically his own suffering and inevitable death. No one wanted to hear this; no one, in fact, could hear it, anymore than we can hear something so far from our frame of reference that we have no place to put it.
Shortly after he first broached the subject of his suffering and death, Jesus took Peter, James and John with him to a high mountain. There, they saw him in what could only be described as glory. This amazing experience of divine affirmation and love did not contradict Jesus’ foreboding sense of what was to come. Rather, it confirmed it. In Luke’s version, the conversation between Jesus, Moses and Elijah is explicit: “They spoke to him about his departure--his exodus--which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem.” Suffering was the path before him, and when Jesus came down from the mountain, he began to walk it. Onto Jerusalem, he told his followers, where my fate awaits.
Jesus didn’t want to talk about what happened on the mountain because it would seem to confirm all the fantasies about him and his power at the very moment he was to sacrifice his life. I daresay the disciples didn’t dare speak of it because it was too much for them to bear, this knowledge that the one upon whom all their hopes rested was on his way to Jerusalem to die.
This juxtaposition of God’s love and Jesus’ suffering, and the inevitability of suffering in a life devoted to love, is at the heart of Christian faith. I have never fully understood it, but I’ve seen it lived in the lives of remarkably brave human beings. I’ve come to believe in its truth and power, no matter how hard I resist the reality of suffering in my life and in the lives of those I love. Every year at this time, Christians are invited, in the midst of everything else our lives require of us between now and Easter, to keep part of our mind’s eye and spiritual heart focused on Jesus and his walk toward Jerusalem. It’s not the easiest thing to do: who wouldn’t rather stay on the mountain of glory, or at the least on the path of least resistance and the sweet illusions we can maintain for ourselves when life is going well?
I ask you to hold the image of Jesus’ walking toward Jerusalem and all that awaits him there, while I tell you about another person who is doing the very same thing right now.
Kate Bowler is a history professor at Duke Divinity School. She wrote her dissertation and first book on the history of what’s known as “The Prosperity Gospel,” a strain of American Christianity that believes fortune to be a blessing from God and misfortune as a mark of spiritual failing. Bowler admits that at age thirty-five, everything in her life seemed to point, in its own way, toward “blessing.” She had scored her dream job right out of graduate school, was married to her high school sweetheart, and was hopelessly smitten with her toddler son.
Then she was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer.
In a radio interview this week she said:
My diagnosis was like a bomb went off and everything around me was debris. Before my diagnosis, I assumed that I was the architect of my life, that I could overcome anything with a little pluck and determination. I pictured my life as an enhancement project, as if life were a bucket and my job was to put things in the bucket. The whole purpose was to figure out how to have as many good things coexisting at the same time. Then when everything fell apart, I had to make a switch in my image of life. Maybe life is more like moving from vine to vine, and I’m grabbing on, hoping for dear life that the vine doesn't break.
I started to practice giving things away; imagining my husband living without me; raising our son alone. But then the people I loved would come back at me and say, “We are going to fight this.” They wanted to pour their certainty into me, to remake the world as it was. But there was no going back.
In her memoir Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I Have Loved Bowler chronicles the first year after her diagnosis, a year she was not expected to survive but did, thanks in large measure to harsh chemotherapy treatments combined with experimental immunotherapy.
Near the end, she describes the moment when her doctor suggests that it’s time to stop both regimens of chemotherapy--because they are no longer helping her--and rely solely on the immunotherapy. It feels as if two of the vines she depends upon will be cut and she’ll swing on the one vine, praying it holds her up.
She doesn’t know what to do: “I’m not sure I want to know what happens if I stop chemotherapy, but at the same time I want to get it over with,” she tells him. “What would you do?”
“I’d go to work,” he said. She realized that she was in presence of one who was well acquainted with suffering. “We’re all terminal,” he reminds her. “Take a deep breath. Say a prayer. And get back to work.”
When she tells him of how she dreads dying, he says this: “Don’t skip to the end.”
So Kate Bowler has gone back to work, doing her best to cherish each day, and not skip to the end. “Yes, I’m going to die,” she writes at the end of her memoir, “but not today.”
That’s exactly what Jesus did after coming down from the mountain. He saw his future clearly before him, one that would not end well, but he didn’t quit living, and he didn’t skip to the end. He started walking to Jerusalem, and as he walked, he continued to do what he had been doing all along: heal the sick, feed the hungry, preach good news to the poor, challenge the religious authorities for the cruelty of their purity codes. Yes, he was going to die, but not yet. There was still good work to be done.
What I hope you take away from this juxtaposition of Jesus’ coming to terms with suffering and Kate Bowler’s story is simply this: First, a gentle reminder that our life’s task is not to fill our bucket with as many good things as we can. Life is a gift; a mystery; and a journey, and for all of us, the journey on this side of heaven will end. Suffering and death are the greatest frontiers of human life. They lie beyond our understanding, but we are beyond God’s grace and love when suffering and death come to us, as they will. Suffering is not our fault. It is the price of being human in a world where the kingdom of God has not yet fully come.
But knowing this, we needn’t skip to the end. We, too, can live each day fully, cherishing moments of goodness, doing the work God has given us to do, and if we feel so called, following in Jesus’ ways of love.
Will you pray with me?
Lord Christ, from the beginning, your followers have tried to understand why it was that you needed to suffer and die as you did. Today, we thank you for facing into the reality of suffering with such courage, and going about your life, not skipping to the end. We ask for the grace to do the same, and grace to accept that perhaps everything doesn’t happen for a reason, but simply happens because we are human. Thank you for walking the harder road with us, helping us to be brave. We know that we’re going to die, Lord, but not today. Thank you for the work you’ve given us to do, and life we’re blessed to live. In your name, we pray.
February 08, 2018
Most of us, most of the time, feel left out—misfits. We don’t belong. Others seem to be so confident, so sure of themselves, “insiders” who know the ropes, old hands in a club from which we are excluded. . . . As Luke tells the story of Jesus, all of us who have found ourselves on the outside looking in on life with no hope of gaining entrance (and who of us hasn’t felt it?) now find the doors wide open, found and welcomed by God in Jesus.
When was the last time you sat down and read from beginning to end one of the four accounts of Jesus’ life in the Bible?
If your answer is “I’ve never done that,” or “It’s been a long time,” join with me between now and this Sunday, February 11, in reading in its entirely the Gospel According to St. Luke. It won’t take long: each of the 24 chapters is only few pages.
Then, after you’ve finished reading the Gospel of Luke in this way, for breadth, start again on Sunday, this time reading for depth, a portion each day for the season of Lent. Know that you’ll be joining Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and Episcopalians across the country (including your bishop) in a spiritual practice known as lectio divina, a prayerful engagement with Scripture that invites the Holy Spirit to speak to us through sacred texts. It involves not just reading the text, but deeply pondering the words and what they evoke in us, praying through them, and allowing the Spirit to quicken our hearts.
“The surest way to get into the presence of God is to get into the Word of God,” writes local pastor Mark Batterson. “It changes the way we think, the way we feel, the way we live, and the way we love.”
Once we finish Luke, we’re encouraged to read Part Two of this great story, as told in the Book of Acts. That’s the invitation for the Easter Season, and I’m on board for that as well.
But for now, as we enter Lent, the sacred season patterned on Jesus’ 40 days of prayer and fasting in the wilderness, will you join me and others across our church in reading the Gospel of Luke? I wonder how God might move in each of us, and in all of us together, as we commit to this spiritual practice together.
February 04, 2018
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’ And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
Earlier this week I met with a group of lay leaders from congregations in one of the regions of our diocese. Some knew each other; most did not. After we settled in with our sandwiches and salad, I took out a stack of “faith sharing cards” and gave 3 or 4 to everyone around the table. Your diocesan convention delegates and clergy all received a similar set of cards, whose purpose is to stimulate conversations about our faith. Each card has a question, such as:
“When did you first come to believe in God? Share the story of how you came to faith.”
“What is the common message you think Christ wants us to take into the world. Share a story from you life where you were most faithful to that call.”
“What does it mean to be made in God’s image? How does knowing you are made in God’s image impact how you relate to others?”
I invited each person to tell a bit of their story, if they were willing, by answering one of the questions. Two of the group chose cards that asked essentially the same question: “Tell of a time when you felt led by the Holy Spirit,” and “When did you feel as if God were leading you on a particular path.”
One spoke of a time when someone with whom she was friendly, but not particularly close, an acquaintance of several years told her, on the day of her retirement, that he had been diagnosed with ALS--a fatal degenerative disease. He was a young man, an artist without a lot of money and no family in the area. She found herself saying what any might have said in that circumstance, “If there is anything I can do, please let me know.”
He called her a few days later to say that he needed to help with transportation. His team of doctors wanted him to come in every few weeks for an entire day of appointments, and he had no one to take him. “I’ll do it,” she said.
So every few weeks for nearly 6 months, she drove this young man to his day-long treatments. She became his advocate with the doctors. In the car rides there and back, they talked and he began to open up about his estrangement with his family. “This was not how I was planning to spend my retirement,” she told us. But there she was, and there was a never a doubt in her mind that she belonged there. Finally, as his condition worsened, she gently encouraged him to contact his family. She was with him when he telephoned his estranged brother, who immediately drove across the country to pick him up and take him home. She stayed in touch as best she could. When he died a year or so later, she went to his funeral.
Looking back she knew that the Holy Spirit had led her to care for this dying young man. It was a deeply human encounter and a profoundly spiritual one. God needed her, and in retrospect, she saw how God worked through her.
Another leader told a more church-related story. He had been a member of his congregation for many years and had served in a variety of leadership positions. He had been there long enough to see a pattern play out over the years concerning a particular issue--both difficult and contentious--that kept the congregation somewhat stuck. The issue would surface; they’d try to deal with it, anxiety and conflict would take over and everyone would back away. The issue would go dormant for a while, surface again, come to the edge of conflict and anxiety, they’d back away, and so it went. One year he had the strong sense that he was the one called to assume lay leadership as senior warden in order to help guide the congregation through the work of resolving this issue and getting to the other side of it. “It was rough,” he said. “It took several years. A lot of people were angry with me. But I never wavered.” He told us that now the congregation was on the other side and bearing the fruits of having worked through and resolving a difficult issue.
Their stories encouraged all of us around the table to think back on such times in our lives, when we knew what we needed to do and why, when we felt guided along a particular path, chosen for a task. My reason for sharing them is to encourage the same reflection in you: has there ever been such a time for you, when you felt such a call, when you knew that a particular task or responsibility was yours to take on? Often these tasks or responsibilities are not easy, but we have a much greater tolerance for discomfort and challenge when we feel called to the work than when we don’t. Moreover, there’s a power that often comes to us in these experiences, a strength that sustains us. For that season, we can run, as Scripture says, and not be weary; we can walk and not faint.
In the accounts of Jesus’ life, there is a lively conversation in the texts themselves about Jesus’ sense of purpose, of his calling to be who he was and do what he was sent by God to do. Some texts were written from the conviction that from the beginning he knew who he was and why he had come. Any revelation about his purpose was for other people’s benefit, for those around him while he walked the earth and for people like us, reading these stories about him in our time. Other texts suggest that the internal realization of his vocation came to him more slowly, as it does for most of us, and that there were particular moments when he had an “epiphany” or revelation about his destiny, who he was and what he was meant to do.
Whichever side of the conversation a particular text is on, or how we interpret it, in the stories of Jesus’ life there are particular moments when he experiences a moment of clarity about his call, or his experiences cause others to gain that clarity. The experiences are intended to guide him personally or to encourage others to follow him, or both.
You remember the story of his baptism the following week, how he joined the throngs of people at the Jordan River in order to be baptized by John. It seems that Jesus was part of John the Baptizer movement, drawn to his message of fierce repentance for sin. He had the sense that baptism was something he was called to by God, for his sake, for others’ sake, or both. When he rose from the water he heard a voice: “You are my beloved. With you I am well pleased.” From there he felt the Spirit lead him--drive him some texts say--into a wilderness experience of 40 days’ struggle and prayer, before he emerges to begin his public ministry.
If you’re in church next week you’ll hear another such revelatory moment in Jesus’ life, similar to his baptism. He’s been at his healing, teaching ministry for some time, he draws large crowds wherever he goes, and the conflicts with religious and political authorities are growing more intense. One day he climbs a mountain in order to pray, taking two of his closest friends with him. There, he has a spiritual encounter that seems to transform him, and he is visited by the spirits of Moses and Elijah, two great leaders of his people in their times. He hears a voice, as do his disciples who were with him: “This is my Beloved.” Clarity again is given him. He knows what he needs to do, and from there he makes his fateful journey to Jerusalem.
Today we’re given a smaller glimpse of how Jesus’ sense of clarity and purpose came to him, and was revealed to others. This was early in his ministry, taken from the very full first chapter of the Gospel of Mark. After a flurry of activity--healing throughout the village and in Peter’s own household, casting out demons, whatever that meant--Jesus gets up early one morning and goes to a deserted place, and there he prays. He’s there long enough to cause his disciples to worry and go in search from him. When they find him, he’s emerged from prayer with clarity: “It’s time to go,” he in essence says to them, “Onto the next town, so I can proclaim the message God has given to me, has sent me to proclaim there also, for that is what I came to do.”
What a wonderful thing to be able to say. Can you imagine walking into work or school tomorrow and being able to say, This is what I came to do. Or at home, or in conversation with friends, This is what I came to do.
What did Jesus come to do? To show us what the love of God looks like in a way we could receive it, fully experience it, in the flesh. He came to show us how to live, how to love, how to draw closer to God the Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth yet whom Jesus addressed in the most intimate of parental terms: abba, pappa. He came so that we might do the same. He came to give himself to us fully and for us fully, to the point of death, and to break the bonds of death so that we might live in hope as our own death approaches, knowing that does not have the final word.
Jesus also came as an example, so we could see what it looks like to be fully alive. That “fully aliveness” includes, for everyone once in awhile, a stunning moment of clarity. It doesn’t have to be a big, overarching gift of clarity; often it’s a small bit--enough to get us through a day, or a task, or a season. It’s usually, not always, in response to situations we would not have chosen but are thrust upon us. In the words of Victor Frankl, Holocaust survivor and lifelong student of human resilience and purpose, “Those who have a 'why' to live, can bear with almost any 'how'.”
As your bishop and fellow disciple, I encourage you to spend time in the next week remembering those times in your life when you have received, in some way large or small, clarity of purpose. How did that clarity come to you--through a conversation with another person, because of circumstances you had to face? Did you hear the word spoken to you by another, or through the words of Scripture or some artistic medium? How did God speak to you?
Now if no experience comes to mind: not to panic. Often my mind goes blank over questions like this and it takes time for a past experience to come to mind. If it’s never been part of your experience, you might ask for it, in prayer, and wait to see what happens.
If you don’t already, give yourself the gift of a bit silence each day to allow the voice of God to speak. If you’re sitting, to sit in silence; if you’re driving, to drive without the radio; if you’re walking, to refrain from earbuds. Listen to the silence and see what you hear.
I don’t want to leave you with the impression that if you do this, you’ll always receive complete clarity for your life. I certainly don’t have complete clarity and I spend much of my life in the happy and not-so-happy muddle of confusion that is daily life. But when those moments of clarity come, they go a long way in helping us sort things through and make decisions and put ourselves in places of great potential.
I wish that for you. I wish that for the world through you. Because when you make yourself available to God and ask for sufficient clarity to guide your path it is astonishing what God can do in and through you, and you will know that responding to the call given you is, in part, what you are here to do.
February 01, 2018
Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
In my Diocesan Convention address, Loaves and Fish and the Next Courageous Step, I spoke of the wondrous “loaves and fish” stories from across the diocese, examples of how Jesus is blessing and multiplying the courageous offerings of our people. I then invited all to consider--as individuals, faith communities, and the diocese as a whole--what is the next courageous step that God is calling us to take to go deeper in relationship with Christ.
At Convention we distributed a paper copy of Taking the Next Courageous Step which lists upcoming opportunities in each of the key priorities of our diocese: growing Christian community, growing in faith in every dimension of our lives, and striving for justice.
Take a moment to read through these steps, and consider where God might speak to you through them. For the next few weeks, I will highlight here one of the courageous steps and its transformative potential.
On Monday evening, March 12, Adam Hamilton, one of the most inspiring and influential Christian leaders of our country, will speak at Washington National Cathedral. Hamilton is Senior Pastor of United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City, a church which he founded 20 years ago and is now the largest Methodist church in the country. It is a church that bridges the divides of our nation and witnesses to the transforming power of Jesus. One of its stated mission goals is the renewal of mainline Christianity.
The Cathedral event is Hamilton’s first stop on a national tour to discuss the themes of his most recent book, Unafraid: Living with Courage and Hope in Uncertain Times. Pastor Hamilton gave me the honor of reviewing his book before publication. It is a remarkable resource. Like many of his works, Unafraid comes with study guides and age appropriate curriculum for adults, youth and young children. It could be the foundation of a 5-week series in your communities later in 2018.
Listen to Adam Hamilton’s personal invitation to join him on March 12. He was inspired to write the book, he says, in response to the pervasiveness of fear in American culture. In it, he explores the top fears we face as a people, offering insights to address them from many fields, and most especially from the resources of our Christian faith.
You may reserve your seat and copy of Unafraid here. The cost is $30. I have set aside $1200 from the bishop’s discretionary account to pay for the ticket and book for up to 3 people from any interested congregation, diocesan campus or school. The Diocese of Washington is co-sponsoring the event with the Baltimore-Washington United Methodist Conference. Many of your Methodist friends will be there as well and I hope you’ll join me in welcoming them.
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.