Bishop's Convention Address 2012
November 17, 2012
175th Convention of the Diocese of Chicago
The Conversation is the Relationship
A little over a week ago I found myself on a private tour of Westminster Abbey. I was there to preach at the celebration of the marriage between Jackie Cameron, a priest of this diocese as many of you know, and Robert Piggott who is the religion reporter for the BBC. The Dean of the Abbey officiated, many of Jackie’s friends from the Diocese of Chicago were there to join all of Robert’s family and colleagues in the celebration, members of one of the Abbey’s choirs sang in the liturgy, incense flowed and the happy couple were even treated to a full peal of the bells at the conclusion of the service, something I learned that is usually reserved for members of the Royal Family.
“How’d they get that?” I asked the priest in charge of the arrangements. “They begged,” came the answer.
I took an overnight flight to London so that I could attend at least part of this year's Episcopal Charities Ball, so I arrived straight from the airport and was shown to a room called the Jerusalem Chamber. I don’t know if you’ve heard of this particular place in the Abbey or been there. It was built in the 14th century, it’s the spot where King Henry IV died, the room in which the principal meetings were held for the translation of the King James Bible, and subsequent versions of the scriptures in English. It is the room where the Dean and chapter of Westminster Abbey regularly meet and the place where we flung our coats and luggage on the floor to get into vestments for this little wedding.
On our way to the Lady Chapel for a walkthrough just prior to the start of the wedding, I got this private tour. Up to the high altar and the alabaster spot on the floor where every English monarch has been crowned since the middle ages. We stepped through a small door and there in front of me was the shrine of the maker of the place, Edward the Confessor, the tomb of Edward VI on one side, Mary Queen of Scotts over there, Elizabeth I ... well, you get the idea. And I thought, here we are, in this grand, this fabled place, full of history – here we are preparing to celebrate the wedding of two very contemporary people, a second marriage for one of them, a man who makes media happen across the globe, a woman who happens to be a priest to boot.
And it was an image for me of the life of the church. It was an image of this vast, untidy, ages-long conversation we call the Christian faith. A conversation we believe that has been initiated by God in creation: God spoke and all things came into being. A conversation that took a decisive and radical new twist in that event we call the incarnation: the Eternal Word was made flesh. A conversation that goes on now in us, in and through you and me, the living limbs and members of the Body of Christ. It is not a simple conversation. It has grown and evolved, it grows in richness and complexity, it changes because it is a living reality. At times, it has turned rancorous, sinful, and even bloody (no need to be reminded about that surrounded by some of those tombs in the Abbey!), but God is still in it. The life of the church -- the community of those baptized into Christ -- the life of the church is a conversation. Just as Holy Scripture functions often by conversing or arguing with itself, so too the life of the community of faith proceeds and grows by conversation ... conversation between experience and tradition, between the past and the future, between its inherited values and its surrounding culture. Between the saints who have gone before us and the saints God is making us into even now.
The theme of this convention was not chosen lightly: Fierce conversations for the future church. I believe fiercely honest conversations are what God longs to have with us and the world in which we live. Real conversations are the way things change and grow. As the poet David Whyte says, the conversationisthe relationship. And relationships – with God and one another in Christ – those relationships are the reason for the church. In this diocese we are engaged in multiple Godly conversations. There are so many that are crucial to our future, not just the future of the church but of our society and even the planet. Dismantling structures of racism comes to mind, the undoing of prejudices of all kinds, our obligation as Christians to care for this earth and to work for a sustainable future. But for now I want to highlight with you four conversations that seem to me to be critically important to the future God wants to give us:
+ The Campaign for the Renewal of St. James Commons
+ Our relationship with the Diocese of Quincy
+ And Crosswalk
Thrive – Program and Publication
First, Thrive. It’s the name we’ve chosen for both a process aimed at increasing congregational vitality and a new magazine for our diocese. Not accidental.
Promoting, supporting, fostering healthy, vibrant and growing congregations is the primary business of this diocese. The Diocese of Chicago is nothing more (and nothing less) than a body, a network of living cells called congregations: worshiping, ministering communities. The office of the bishop, the governance structures, the canons, our agencies, this convention – all of it exists to promote the life of the community that together we are. The congregational vitality project called Thrive is a major initiative that I hope will be transformative for us. You’ve heard something about it from Jim Steen already and I am grateful to those congregations who have chosen to be part of the first cohort of participants. Thrive is meant to be a life-giving conversation between learners who want their congregations to make a bigger and bigger difference in the lives of people who need to hear, to experience the good news of Jesus Christ. Thrive is a response to the tough conversations we also need to have about the realities of a changing world in which the place of Christian congregations is no longer assured. Old assumptions and ways of supporting the mission and ministry of the church are changing, sometimes even disappearing and in the face of all that it is critical to remember that for members of the Body of Christ, even death is never the final word. New life is always God’s gift and I see Thrive as a means for cultivating resiliency in our churches, building on our strengths and preparing to receive God's gift of new and renewed life.
Now, Thrive the magazine. Jennifer Baskerville Burrows has been hard at work on this project and it debuts at this convention. I think you’re going to find it to be very exciting.
Thrive is a features publication. It’s not a newspaper. In today’s world, if it’s going to be timely and useful, news simply has to be delivered primarily electronically, or in tried and true local forms like the good old bulletin insert. We’ve got great tools at our disposal for news delivery – if you haven’t already done so, please sign up to receive our email newsletters. So the magazine Thrive is a different kind of vehicle than a newspaper. In it you’ll find thoughtful stories about life and ministry that make this diocese so exciting. I’m hoping Thrive will be a tool for opening conversations with neighbors and friends who may or may not have any kind of relationship with the church. Evangelism, in a word. Not just pretty pictures (although they are that), it’s a tool I want us to use. There are bundles of Thrive ready to be picked up and taken back to your congregations for wide distribution to your members and friends. Please don’t forget to take them with you and enjoy!
A Place of Grace and Gladness
The renovation and renewal of St. James Commons. I announced the beginning of this project at last year’s convention, and I am happy to tell you that we have made remarkable progress over the last 12 months. The work is nearing completion and it has transformed the physical fabric of the diocesan center, St. James Commons. I see it as a kind of outward and visible sign of the interior heart and soul renovation work I want to be about in all our churches. We have a spectacularly renewed tool at the Commons for making the church visible in the heart of the city and diocese of Chicago.
We also finally have a fully accessible and much more sustainable space to host and enhance gatherings of lay and ordained leaders from all over the diocese to equip them for the work of leading and building up our congregations. Let me share with you a video we have developed for this work. [Watch the video online.]
The capital campaign to fund and support this transformation has met with terrific success. Over the past year we have been engaged in the major gifts phase of the campaign and I am happy to tell you that as of today we have gifts and pledges of $7 million toward the campaign goal of $8 million. After the first of the year we will launch the next, much more public phase of this campaign. In the coming months you will be hearing more about regional information gatherings and events to raise awareness about the project and the impact it will have in this diocese, in the city and the region, and the difference this increased visibility can make for individual congregations. In this next phase of the campaign we will be seeking five figure gifts and continuing to spread the news about the transformation of the Commons. The last and final phase of the campaign to be launched in 2014 will bust it wide open to look for gifts of any and every level. This is the “Buy a Brick” phase. I want every member, every household in this diocese to have the opportunity to participate and to have a sense of ownership at St. James Commons. Every Episcopalian has two churches ... their own congregation and their cathedral and diocesan center.
The Diocese of Quincy
Before us at this convention comes a historic conversation and a gospel opportunity for the future. The Diocese of Illinois was founded in 1835. In 1877, the Church’s General Convention approved the creation of two additional dioceses in Illinois to support the anticipated growth of the church in these areas. The Dioceses of Quincy and Springfield were thus established, while we remained the Diocese of Illinois until 1884 when we changed our name to the Diocese of Chicago. In 2008 the Synod of our sister Diocese of Quincy voted to “disassociate” itself from the Episcopal Church. In my judgment and in the judgment of the vast majority of canon lawyers and secular courts, that decision was illegitimate – individuals of course may choose to leave the church, but only an action of the General Convention may create or dissolve a diocese.
Those congregations in Quincy that remained clear in their commitment to remain in the Episcopal Church reconstituted themselves as the Episcopal Diocese of Quincy and have considered carefully and prayerfully, and I have to say heroically, the future of their diocese. They made the decision to approach us in the Diocese of Chicago with a request to consider a reunification of the two dioceses – together with Ten other folks from our diocese I was privileged to be present last month at the Diocese of Quincy's Synod where delegates passed overwhelmingly a resolution to support moving ahead toward reunification with us.
There are many technical questions yet to be answered. Courtney Reid and a very capable team of folks have been doing as much due diligence as possible to look at the opportunities and possible liabilities of a reunion. There are several unknowns in all of this: the outcome of lawsuits regarding the disposition of properties and assets in the Diocese of Quincy, the realities of scheduling and travel for episcopal visitations, how to welcome the gifts and Godly heritage of another diocese without simply absorbing them, questions about liabilities and the challenges of promoting vibrant ministry in small congregations. There are many unknowns. But there is one thing I believe we know very well, and that is that God is faithful. The divine conversation is ongoing, and the Episcopal Church in the state of Illinois wants to be part of that conversation. I have seen first hand how God's people in Quincy long to be active participants in the future God has for us as a church. Episcopalians have a role to play and a story to tell. I do not have all the answers to what that future might look like in all its details, but I do know I will not walk away from Episcopalians in the Diocese of Quincy who want to join with us in witnessing to the power of the Risen Christ who overcomes all divisions.
On Monday of Holy Week this year the City and Region of Chicago came together at St. James Commons. After opening prayers and testimony from parents who have lost children to gun violence a procession formed and walked from the Cathedral of St. James to Stroger Hospital, with stations for prayer at Daly Plaza and Old St. Pat's Church. I say the city and region because we had representatives from faith communities well beyond the Episcopal Church. Cardinal George and Bishop Wayne Miller from the ELCA were with us. Assembled for that procession were people from across racial and class and ethnic and economic boundaries. We were from the city and the suburbs and towns far beyond metropolitan Chicago. Every major news outlet covered the event. When I walked out of the packed cathedral and saw three news helicopters overhead, I knew we were on to something. And indeed we were ... and are on to something. Since 2008 well over six hundred young people have died on the streets of Chicago. At the last meeting of the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church, Justin Welby, then the Bishop of Durham and now of course the newly appointed Archbishop of Canterbury elect, was seated at my small group Bible study table. In a conversation I shared that number with him and he said, “My God, that’s a civil war!” This undeclared fatal epidemic of violence is not an urban problem, or only something Chicagoans need to worry about. Shortly after I arrived as your bishop five years ago came that terrible day in DeKalb when seven young adults lost their lives in a university lecture hall. There are more cases of homicide by handgun violence than any other not just in Cook County but in Kane and Peoria Counties too.
Thanks in large part to the leadership of a Postulant for Holy Orders in this diocese, Jack Clark, a holy conversation has begun about how to respond to this scourge. That procession to Stroger Hospital isn’t over and it continues to grow. CROSSwalk now counts over fifty partners in an evolving network of neighbors and friends, Christians and people of other faiths who are pledged to work for an end to this slaughter. As one mother named Pam Bosely said in her powerful and heartbreaking witness talk in the cathedral, “I am here and telling my story, because I don’t want any other parent ever to have to go through losing their child.” Her son was one of those kids who was gunned down for no reason other than that he was standing in the wrong place at the wrong time. He could have been any one of our children. In fact, he is our child. And so is every other child who dies. We belong to each other. God has entrusted us with each other. Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons? Will you work for justice and peace among all people? Will you respect the dignity of every human being?
Those are the questions we engage all the time in that holy and fierce conversation we call the baptized life. I invite you to go deeper into it, to make CROSSwalk in some way part of your conversation with God and this broken beautiful world. Let’s be known for this. Let the Episcopal Church stand up to death.
The Diocese of Chicago
Dear friends, it is a joy and a privilege to be part of this conversation we call the Diocese of Chicago. I am blessed to be your bishop. We are blessed to have the strong, loving and wise leadership of people like Bishop Epting, Courtney Reid, Jim Steen, and Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, the amazing Anne Cothran and all those wondrous people at the Diocesan Center who work for us all.
This Diocese is peculiarly blessed and I am acutely aware of it especially during our annual convention. This is a privileged time for us to engage in deep, joyful, serious, playful, substantial, worshipful conversation with each other, with our past and our future, and above all, with our God. In all we do over these couple of days, in presentations and resolutions, in hearings and debates, in the exhibition hall and over meals, I invite you to listen deeply to each other, speak in love to each other, and in it all listen for the voice of the dying and rising Jesus himself. He is calling us. He calls us to die and rise with him. It is the one conversation that matters.