Friday, March 25, 2016

good friday haiku

Golgotha’s horror
Plays like a broken film reel

Frame frozen on pain

Friday, March 18, 2016

prayer wranglers

I spent the last week at the House of Bishops meeting in Navasota, TX at Camp Allen.  Navasota, TX is close to pretty much nothing (Houston is 1.5 hours away) and so, when one is at Camp Allen, one is… at Camp Allen.  It’s been years and years since my last visit to the camp.  In the time since I last visited, the camp has added a chapel, multiple camping sites, several cabins, a couple of pools, basketball courts and they’ve dug out a lake.  I was there for a children’s ministry conference in the early 1990s when the camp was in the process of an overhaul and a giant renovation. (Everything in TX is giant, isn’t it?)  Wow, they’ve done good.  It is a gorgeous facility.

The House of Bishops gathers twice per year.  In a non-convention year, the meetings are in September and March.  In convention years, the September meeting yields to the work of General Convention, held in the summer.

This was my first House of Bishops meeting.  There were about 150 of us present, including me, Bishop # 1089 (that’s my number in the succession of Bishops in the Episcopal Church beginning with Samuel Seabury, #1, consecrated in the year 1784).

It used to be (in the good old days?) that the bishops sat in straight rows at their meetings, in order of consecration.  The old boys (and boys, they were) were in the front rows (referred to, in a macabre fashion, in sotto voce as the “Valley of the Shadow of Death”) and the newly ordained brought up the rear.  A change in leadership and the need for reconciliation and broader conversation brought change to the seating chart in the 1990s. Today, the bishops are seated at round tables and assigned carefully chosen table partners to reflect the diversity of the House.  These seating assignments “stick” for a triennium, until the next General Convention.  I was delighted to have table companions from the American Midwest and South and Haiti.  One of our table members was kept away by illness; we look forward to greeting him the next time!

So what do 150 Episcopal bishops actually do for the better part of a week together?

We prayed. We enjoyed an amazing round of twice daily worship that fed us, spiritually and intellectually.  We had whole group and table discussions about some of the themes that are emerging as important to the work of the Episcopal Church these days:  Reconciliation (including racial reconciliation), Evangelism, and the Jesus Movement.  We told and listened to stories of our own experiences around these issues and began building relationships of trust and vulnerability, based on one-to-one encounters.  We did business: We discussed the upcoming election of a new bishop suffragan to serve the armed forces, prison chaplains and veterans.  We received reports of committees and task forces on subjects like Methodist-Episcopal relations and theology. We had a meeting of Bishops United Against Gun Violence to plan for a conference in Chicago in April 2017.  We learned about the resource for a curriculum about Creation care, free to us for the next several months until it is published by Church Publishing (I brought home a copy) and we studied the different possibilities for how we’d like to organize ourselves as a House in our meetings in the near future. 

We played.  Our “classes” went out to dinner. My class consists of the bishop of Dallas, George Sumner; the bishop of Central Gulf Coast, Russell Kendrick; the co-adjutor bishop of the Dominican Republic, Moises Quezada Mota; and the bishop of SE Florida, Peter Eaton.  (Insert corny joke here about “Five Episcopal Baby Bishops walk into a Mexican Restaurant….”  ) We went hiking and walking and horseback riding. (that explains the photo).

And we “bonded.”  Or, I should say, I bonded with them.  It’s a pretty tight group, actually, and, even for all of its tightness, it is hospitable. Very hospitable. 

The female bishops had an evening together, I had a session with my bishop coach, dinner out with my former diocesan bishop (more Mexican food) and I was welcomed warmly to the choir (20 music-loving bishops and an amazing music chaplain).

And, I was glad.  Glad to be with them, and, glad to be headed home after a week.

I knew that in my absence, that the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania did not stop working. In fact, many good things took place while I was miles away, sawing my way through a rib-eye steak and trying to look natural on horseback.  Lots was happening here, in CPA, and I was glad to learn of it all in my evening email engagements.

We are a good Church.  A solid Church of people who plainly love Jesus; adore good worship, are willing to wrestle, theologically; and respect the dignity of every human being.  It is a good day to be an Episcopalian and to every bishop who inquired “How is it going?,” I was able to reply, confidently, “Well.  Quite well.”

We did issue a statement at the end of the House meeting.  It aims to be a prophetic voice on the subject of civil public discourse and to my brothers and sisters who word-smithed it (imagine 150 bishops writing something together by committee) I am grateful.

I’m glad to be home.  There was no chance of me running off with the rodeo.

Here’s a link to our “bishops’ statement” in case you missed it. 

Friday, March 4, 2016

six months in

Six Months In.

It’s hard to believe that in just over a week, I will have been consecrated and serving as bishop for six months.  And while that’s the technical amount of time, there were two additional months that I spent in July and August serving as Bishop-elect (though, admittedly, much of that time was spent following my GPS around Central PA discovering new grocery stores, doctors, dry cleaners, hiking trails and with our realtor, tracking down a new home.)

And so, what an opportunity this presents-  to do some reflecting in this blog entry about what I’ve been learning as I move through my first year.

It’s the Listening Year.  You may remember that from some of my early offerings about how I thought that I might begin, borrowing a friendly warning from my brother bishop Alan Gates (MA): “You may grow impatient with my patience.”

It’s been six months full of listening, indeed, and driving and walking and meeting and seeing… in an effort to “learn” the places, people and passions of Central PA.  I’ve tried to listen deeply to the people in our 64 Episcopal Churches, and to observe the local context- the place in which each of our parishes is “planted.”

Of our 64 parishes, I’ve made it, physically to 44, and have spent time in one way, or another, at the churches- for a meeting, tour, formal visitation or picnic.  In the summer each Convocation hosted gatherings for me to meet a broad section of our parishioners, and since then, I’ve been in a different church nearly every Sunday, led our deacon’s retreat, went on a Youth “Happening” event, attended the ECW annual meeting, spent time in a 3 day “immersion experience” in the Susquehanna Convocation, gathered for luncheons with our retired clergy, facilitated our clergy conference, met three times with each of our area clergy councils and have had lots and lots of appointments in  my office where, in one-on-ones, I am beginning to learn the shape of this diocese’s soul and the timbre of its song. 

Here’s what I’m hearing- 

The Top 6 Themes from the First 6 Months

·      History is very, very important.  It may be that because I’m “not from here” that there’s an extra effort to bring me up to speed on “the way it used to be.”  There is a strong affection for the memories of this place and an intense desire for me to understand the present through the lens of the past.  Many of my conversations begin with a re-counting of “how we got here,” and are filled with a pride in the stamina, persistence, hard work and faithfulness that has carried our congregations to the present day.

·      Our geographic regions help to define who we are.  There is a marked difference between the cultures of the Northern Tier; the coal region; the urban centers of Harrisburg, York, Lancaster and Williamsport; the mountain parishes; Cumberland Valley and Lancaster County.  These differences are marked with pride and when I come to visit, I hear about the strength of each place from her people. 

·      We are worried about the future of our Church.  The signposts of decline are not lost on our parishioners: almost every vestry meeting I’ve attended includes the refrain: “Our people are graying, our children are few, the budget is shrinking, what shall we do?”  One of my chief responsibilities, as I see it, is to acknowledge this truth, to assist in finding some practical solutions for immediate problems and, most importantly, to turn our hearts towards vitality and mission.  If we are doing the work of the Church- participating in the mission of God through worship and service- then we have got it right.  And the rest will become what it needs to be.  “What it needs to be” might not look exactly like we are accustomed to, and may require shifts in our physical manifestation of the Body of Christ Gathered as The Church, but when we are living and loving and serving and worshipping in Christ, we are a new creation, and that is exactly what God has intended us to be. 

·      We value Community.  Every single congregational conversation that I have visited includes a passionate note of appreciation for the community in Christ that has been formed in the parish.

·      There is a passion for Service in our churches that is exciting.  Our parishes are actively engaged in the Mission of God, serving as agents of reconciliation and peace-making in our wider communities.  We host community suppers, stock food pantries, grow community gardens, tutor children, teach ESL, host senior lunches, provide parenting classes, clothing distributions, run after school programs, a health clinic, a home for the aged, three HUD housing projects, provide programming for children and families with special needs, host 12 step programs, and visit people in prison. We understand, many of us, that our professional lives are also the arenas in which we live out our Christian vocation  and the transition between “church” and “the rest of our life” is seamless.  We receive spiritual nourishment in our faith communities which draws us to serve and love our neighbors as ourselves.  We are challenged, some of us, when I talk about the distance that the word “outreach” implies and  we are stretching to understand the  importance of dissolving boundaries between “us “ and “them” and seeing our relationships with those whom we serve as mutually beneficial.

·      We love our natural resources.  Central Pennsylvania is a beautiful place. And we are proud of its resources and strive to be good stewards of our mountains, watersheds, farmland and forests.  This desire to preserve our land has been challenged by the economic benefits of logging, mining, fracking and housing development, and it grieves us.  There is a passion to arrest the loss of these natural resources.  (I received a fly fishing rod from my staff as a consecration gift. That speaks volumes.)

So, what’s next?

More visits, more listening, more learning.

One of the things that I’d like to do is discover how I can spend more time listening to and learning from parishioners in our congregations. I am so grateful that I have regular opportunities to hear from our clergy and I want, somehow, to broaden that circle to include parishioners, as well.  I’ve changed the format for visitations, asking that congregations consider how they might engage with me on a Saturday afternoon or evening preceeding the Sunday visit, and I’ve also received invitations to mission projects during the week to participate alongside all of you, in service.  For that, I am glad.  And, my calendar is full.  The reality of time makes it impossible to do everything that I want to do, just yet.  This is a marathon, not a sprint, I have to remind myself, and so I am finding it necessary to become patient with my own impatience.

Six months in.  I wonder, for those of you here in Central PA, what you’re hearing, seeing and learning…?  Do tell.

* the next blog entry will be on Friday March 18th as next week I will be gathering in Texas with the House of Bishops.