Bishop’s Convention Address May 19, 2007

May 24, 2007

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

Welcome to this part of the family reunion of the delegates who represent the sisters and brothers who constitute the family of God in Upper South Carolina.  With this session we look at the “nuts and bolts” of Christian leadership—how we conduct a “revival”, so to speak—an on-going revival of focus and energy for mission.


Several weeks ago I made a visitation to St. David’s Parish in Columbia, where I enjoyed a delicious breakfast and an open forum with the communicants.  After I made some reference to my experience of 12 years as bishop, a kind gentleman asked me what goals I had 12 years ago, and which of them had been accomplished.  That was easy, and I rattled them off without hesitation.


Then he asked me another question:  “What are your goals now?”  That one surprised me—and, I confess, gave me pause.  Then I stammered, I’m sure, and responded with a few, probably pious, generalizations.  Mostly, I was surprised that I was surprised.  The question got my attention.


And it has generated serious reflection on my part.  After all, the clock is ticking, the calendar running.  Canon law requires that I resign effective no later than my 72nd birthday.  Now, I assume that you won’t tar and feather me and run me out of the diocese on a rail before then.  Unless you do, you may have to drag me, kicking and screaming, off of the Cathedra.

My reluctance to “turn loose” notwithstanding, God has a vision for us—and whether we are in transition or not—and in a sense we are always in transition—the mission and love of Christ compels us.  You know the mission of the Church:  to spread the Kingdom of God on earth.  Or, in the words of the catechism, “The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”

We have brought that mission home, so to speak, by the development of our vision action plan:  “One Body, One Mission:  Changing Lives.” That plan was devised by setting concrete goals consistent with the vitality of the Church in the first century after Christ. Love for each other—“See those Christians, how they love one another”—and a passion for mission to the unchurched; a nurturing Christian community and sharing the Gospel of Christ—those were the factors that set fire to the Early Church.  Our action plan needs to be updated and reformed—regularly and constantly—to meet changes resulting from the passage of time, progress already accomplished, and changes in the needs of God’s people here and in the world around us.  But a plan we need, and a specific one.  In the Book of Proverbs we find that “Without a vision, the people perish.”


We have also sought to grow spiritually.  Early in my episcopate, Christian formation teachers from congregations around our diocese gathered time after time to help us focus on the spiritual journey called life, and to promote deeper understanding and practice of the Christian faith among all of us.  Our goal, we said as the family of God in Upper South Carolina, is to grow more and more into the image of God in which we were created, and after the example of Christ.  That goal prompted the drafting of our spiritual vision statement:  that “We strive to love with the heart of Christ, to think with the mind of Christ, and to act in the world as the Body of Christ”.


We celebrated our definitive sense of mission with the Great Gathering.  What a time—commitment and energy spilling out all over the place.  “Our cup runneth over.”  We were off to a great start, committed to the Lord and to the Lord’s mission, committed to living into the Great Commission as fully as God’s grace empowers us.


But we were derailed, or, to use another metaphor, the wind was taken out of our sails when other issues grabbed headlines and sapped energy.


Beloved, it is time to reclaim our mission—and to get down to the nuts and bolts of mission.


And thanks to the communicant at St. David’s and his provocative question, I have spent considerable time seeking to discern how we do that at this time in our life as the people of God in
Upper South Carolina.  My thoughts are based on consideration of where we need to be when the next diocesan bishop of Upper South Carolina is seated in the Cathedra.


First, the Healthy Church Initiative.  Before I slip away into the night, I want every congregation to have a vision action plan which indicates specifically the ministry to which they believe God is calling them, and also the means and resources, financial and otherwise, sufficient to accomplish that ministry.  In the Healthy Church Initiative we have the blueprint and the process for discerning vision and developing resources—the establishment of mission goals, and a strategy for accomplishing them by effective Christian stewardship of the gifts God has given us.


The population of our state is exploding.  Faithfulness to our Lord’s Great Commission requires that we need to develop a mission strategy to take advantage of this significant opportunity—a challenge and a blessing dropped in our laps.  So my second specific goal is to have in place a plan for planting new missions, and a strategy for assisting congregations already in place.  Let me state parenthetically that further enrichment of our ministry with our Spanish-speaking brothers and sisters is an indispensable part of our mission strategy, not just for the future, but for here and now.


Beloved, we cannot be content with the level of Christian education and formation we received in grammar school.  So, third, let’s greet the next bishop with programs—wherever we have an altar, wherever we have a congregation—for growing in our understanding and practice of the Christian faith—a plan for education and formation “from the womb to the tomb”.  “To think with the mind of Christ” requires knowledge—constantly growing knowledge and a comfortable familiarity—with Holy Scripture, the Tradition of the Church, and Reason—all under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.


Finally, we cannot ignore the great opportunity that we have—unique to our day and time—to be doing the work that Christ would have us do—to be faithful to his self-proclaimed mission to “bring good news to the poor…to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, (and to) proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”.  That blessed opportunity comes to us as the Millennium Development Goals.  Episcopalians in USC are off to a great start in numerous, exciting ventures in mission associated with the MDGs.  This is not so much a goal in itself as it is a way to measure how effective we have been with the three challenges I have set before you:  the Healthy Church Initiative, mission strategy, and Christian formation.  Our involvement in reaching the MDG’s is a thermometer for gauging spiritual health and mission accomplishment—and, along with evangelism, a demonstration of our commitment “to act in the world as the Body of Christ”.


Enough said.  Let’s get on with our praise of God Almighty and our commitment “to do the work God has given us to do”—with the nuts and bolts of Christian community and spread of the Good News.


One Response to “Bishop’s Convention Address May 19, 2007”

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