My Address to the 213th Diocesan Convention
I would like to begin my address by introducing the 213th Annual Convention to our new Presiding Bishop, Michael Bruce Curry, by video presentation.
By introducing Presiding Bishop Curry, I am also introducing the Episcopal Church of New Hampshire to ourselves and to our mission as members of the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement.
Every time we share communion, we restore our identity as members of the Risen Christ, an identity given to us when we are buried with Christ and raised to new life in him through baptism. It is fitting that, as we recommit ourselves to Christian service as a Church, we renew the promises made at baptism. There’s a prayer that we offer at every baptism, and I now make it a practice not just to pray it myself, but to invite the whole congregation to join in its petition. Please join me.
Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy
Spirit you have bestowed upon these your servants the
forgiveness of sin, and have raised them to the new life of
grace. Sustain them, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give them
an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to
persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy
and wonder in all your works. Amen.
(Book of Common Prayer, p. 308)
Now, we could pray this only for our own kids, the ones who come into our church, our doors. But I am convinced that Jesus would tell us that that’s not enough. As God spoke to God’s people through the prophet Isaiah, so God urges us:
It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to restore the survivors of Israel:
I will give you as a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.
In other words, it’s not enough for us to be fixated on the life of the Church and on those who make up our church directories and membership lists. The Church is here as a light to the world, a light to reach the despairing and hopeless and distressed places right here in New Hampshire.
For decades we have been overly concerned with things too light, too easy: the survival of the local parish church, the institutional stability of the church in the face of the culture wars, sparked by debates about human sexuality and gender. There was a season for this.
In the meantime, more and more of the youth of our communities know nothing of the love of God in Jesus. More of our children are caught up in a culture that is becoming dangerously sexualized, unhealthy, violent, and spiritually deadening.
Visiting our churches on any given Sunday, I see fewer children or teenagers sharing stories with me about where they encountered God in school or on a service trip or on an athletic field or anywhere else. As if this is not enough, the agonizing trial this summer in Concord of a recent St. Paul’s School graduate reminded us all how perilous a world it is for our youth.
The challenges that face children in New Hampshire are of critical concern to me, and it and it pains me deeply to see how God’s children are growing up in an increasingly unsteady and confusing world.
But today we have good news. We have what it takes to bring Gospel light and hope into our communities. As part of the Jesus Movement, we are called to be apostles, which simply means to be sent in Jesus’ name. As apostles, we get to bring the loving concern of Jesus to the youth and at-risk families in our own Galilee, here in the Granite State.
We get to look for those places where God is already at work, showing up to protect, nourish, guide, mentor, teach, and raise youth who are falling off the cliff of a culture that breeds violence, addiction, fear, and hatred toward the neighbor. The call is to GO, to be sent, pushed out of our comfort zone, to wear down the soles of our shoes, to put on our coats and parkas and windbreakers and get out to the playing fields, hockey rinks, dance studios, and classrooms, and cafeterias where all our kids need us.
That’s what it means to be apostolic church, a church that is eager to share in God’s mission rather than waiting for people to come through our intimidating red doors. Our new presiding bishop, Michael Curry, told us at his Installation this week that The Episcopal Church is now committed to two of the hardest things -- not light things or easy things, but essential things.
We are to be about evangelism and reconciliation. We are to be about bearing good news and about bringing together those who have been divided by race, class, nationality, gender, or religion. What the scissor graphs this morning showed as cutting us into divided classes, we can help heal by being apostles.
Let me be blunt. Lamenting over the lost youth in our churches is not apostolic. Stressing over just the right Sunday school curriculum in the hopes that it will be the magic formula to bring in all those kids in town -- along with their pledge-making parents -- is not apostolic. We have for too long bought into the myth that if we had just the right Sunday school teacher, or youth director, the kids would just pour into our churches, like following the Pied Piper of Hamlet.
I’ve seen the annual reports of our churches, and I can tell you it’s a myth. It doesn’t bear up to close scrutiny. And, when we hold on to such myths, such illusions, while expecting different results, we can either be diagnosed as delusional, or be accused of the age-old sin of sloth. Either way, we are not being apostolic. Not being sent.
So here’s what we are called to do: Over the next year, we will establish a new, apostolic Commission for Youth. The Commission’s charter will be to determine the ways our churches are furthering the mission of God to give the children and youth “inquiring and discerning hearts, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love God, and the gift of joy and wonder in all God’s works.”
The Commission will be charged to review ways in which each of our convocations or parishes will partner with others in an effort that will bridge the gap between those kids who come to church and those who don’t; between those who can get supplemental tutoring for their SAT’s and those who don’t; between those who can afford to go to private schools and those who don’t. The question, “Why aren’t kids coming to church anymore?” needs to be transformed by the waters of our baptism to “Why isn’t the Church where Our Kids are?”
To get this party for Our Kids started, I am requesting that this Convention approve the 2016 proposed budget, as Amended, which designates over $46,000 for youth and young adult ministry. Additionally, I am pleased to announce that, thanks to a generous donor who wishes to support the Jesus Movement here in New Hampshire, we will be able to make even more funds available in the near future.
By similar fundraising and budgeting, I want to make $100,000 available in the 2017 budget for after-school programs, mentorships, music and art schools that reach those kids that would otherwise be excluded from such opportunities. (Just to remind us, the total funding in this area of our mission in 2015 was $29,000, only $5,000 of that was for children).
More effective than hiring another staff position in Diocesan House, a Commission will actually go out to see the way that godly people, whether Episcopal or not, are already furthering God’s mission among all our children and then come back to seek the prayers and the support of the Church. That’s the one, holy, apostolic church that we believe in.
We heard of several ways this morning of how we can partner with schools, agencies, and organizations that are already doing the mission of God.
What if we heard Jesus speak to you right now, right here in the Grappone Center in Concord, telling us this: “Your parochial report may tell you that you have less than a dozen kids in your church. But I say unto you, you have several hundreds in your parish, the region that falls within the influence of your church. I am already out there among them,” says, Jesus. “I’m waiting for you. When are you going to go out and meet me out there, in the Galilees of New Hampshire?”
Epiphany Church, Newport heard the voice of Jesus say that. They met with the principal of the Middle School across the street. Many parents have to get to work early in the morning and have to leave their kids at the school, but the school can’t open early enough to in the day. So members of the newly formed team ministry of St. Andrew’s, New London and Epiphany get up way early, just like the first apostles did at the empty tomb on the first Easter. They welcome children before the school hours, keep them safe, get to know who they are and to hear their stories. Apostolic.
St. Paul’s, Lancaster and St. Mark’s, Groveton, Trinity, Claremont, Grace, East Concord, all feed children who would otherwise go hungry during school or during the weekend when school lunch is not available. St.John’s, Portsmouth, and Union, Claremont, St. John’s, Walpole, St. Andrew’s, Hopkinton all seek to strengthen children through the healthy discipline of art or music. St. Andrew’s, Manchester invites students from West Manchester High School to partner with them in feeding the hungry and they offer a scholarship to a college bound senior committed to a life of service.
That’s being apostolic. These are Our Kids, and God’s mission.
The Gospel says, “Go!” and we are going.
Apostolic evangelism is not about “come and see” as much as it is about “go and listen.” Go and be formed and shaped by the people we encounter in the parks where addicts hang out, on the soccer fields where kids are striving, in the homeless shelters and soup kitchens, on the committees for social justice and environmental stewardship, in our prisons where art classes and bible studies are offered, in the halls of the State House when we advocate against the death penalty and work for gun safety.
Wherever we go is a chance to find Jesus and join God’s mission. Go. The model for evangelism that Jesus showed wasn’t one that would have us hunker down in safe church bunkers until we feel adequately prepared for mission. He said, “Go, seek me in Galilee,” which is to say, outside the religious establishment, among the secular, the spiritual but non-religious, and among those whose religion does not look like our own.
The presence of the Resurrected Jesus presence is not weak. It is powerful, stronger than death. It embraces all. We learn about and become like Jesus in the seeking, in the serving, in the listening. So, here are some examples of how the Episcopal Church of New Hampshire is poised for a new age of mission:
Thanks to the dedicated and courageous efforts of Grace Church, East Concord, they have been endorsed as the first Episcopal Service Corps Center in northern New England, choosing the name of Assisi House after St. Francis of Assisi.
Assisi House will host five young adults in an intentional residential community of prayer and service. The interns will be sent to serve in social service agencies that address issues such as poverty, care for the creation, and homelessness as they practice showing up, telling stories, splashing water, sharing food and witnessing how God surprises.
With the ambitious apostolic vision of a little seasonal chapel on the Seacoast, we are actively exploring building a community of women who seek freedom from the shackles of human trafficking, domestic violence, and sexual exploitation. Based on the pioneering work of the Rev. Becca Stevens and her sisters at the Magdalene Project and Thistle Farm in Nashville, we are gathering funds and energy to proclaim, “love heals” and bring release to the captives and good news to the oppressed. That same chapel is also setting aside funds for a new curate position, being envisioned as we speak, to do critical mission work.
Last year, in faith of a promised but unforeseen future, the Convention voted to allow Trinity Church, Tilton to close. This happened in February.
Since then we have established close communication with leaders in that town who are eager and excited for this building to be an economic, social and spiritual center in their community. We will soon be reviewing proposals from town leaders as, together, we envision this property as a centerpiece of the downtown.
Likewise, I am seriously considering the establishment of a new Episcopal worshipping community in Franklin or Tilton. The Spirit of Christ is urging us to go to this suffering part of our State and find Jesus. One of the windows of the former St. Jude’s Church depicts a phoenix rising from the ashes of desolation. The phoenix has become a sign of crucifixion, resurrection and stored hope. We are being guided by the light of Christ to bring hope to those in the grips of despair, addiction, poverty and who feel forgotten by the Church.
To be apostolic means that we will strive to establish up to three new missions a year…that’s right, three new missions every year, where God’s people, expelled from the waters of our baptism, will be sent out in mission to meet the risen Christ. Whether on the streets of Tilton or Manchester, on the ships in the port of Portsmouth, in the schools of the Groveton and Lancaster, in the prisons of Berlin or Goffstown, God’s mission is happening already, we just have to go after it.
Here’s the thing: when we do these apostolic things, I promise you, we will not be siphoning off energy or resources from the congregations. In fact, our churches will be reenergized and renewed. Every church that is involved in its community is enlivened, just like the most robust of the vines that insinuate and push out of the limit of the pot which can both nourish but limit its growth.
The churches that are growing in that way, you know who you are. The parishes that are not actively involved with the community are suffering from a kind of fetid claustrophobic enmeshment. And you know who you are. The good news is that the Jesus Movement seeks to push you out of the tomb and unbind you to show the glory of God.
To paraphrase Jesus:
“Go. Make disciple of all the nations, imbuing them with the water of life in the name of the God whose love draws all into true freedom and life: the Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I will be with you always to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)