Bishop Wayne's Address to the Diocese at the 179th

November 17, 2018
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The ancient Liturgy of Saint James of Jerusalem gives us what is probably the longest Eucharistic prayer ever. If you find Eucharist Prayer D too short, then this is the prayer for you. The Scottish Episcopalians, our forebears in faith, loved the Prayer of St. James, and as you might guess, so do I. Here is the part of the Prayer with the technical name of anamnesis, the remembering-up or the knowing again, the part often labelled “The Memorial.” It goes like this:

O God, Implant in our memories Christ’s life-giving passion, salutary death on the cross, burial, and Resurrection on the third day, sitting at the right of you our God and Father, and his second glorious and terrible Advent.

 

The community praying this prayer calls into presence an awareness of Christ across an enormous expanse of time. Before all ages, until the end of time, and past that.

It does something paradoxical but, I think, spot on. It expresses a memory of the future. Implant Christ’s second coming in our memories. The recollection of something that has not-yet happened.

 

Tilting toward the future is probably an under-expressed and under-utilized practice in Christian living. It undergirds any understanding of hope—which is not the same as optimism, not the same as saying every little thing is going to be all right, not the wearing of rose-tinted glasses. Hope sets believers in a posture toward the future, come what may, because we know that in that future, God in Christ Jesus awaits. If the future is glorious, or terrible, or a little bit of both, Christ awaits us.

 

My address today is the last practical time for me to speak directly to you, the community of leaders in the Diocese of Missouri.  I say last practical time, because next year, all our energies will focus on the election of the 11th Bishop of Missouri. As they should be.

By that time, I will be wearing beige and sitting in the corner. As I should be. So this address is an exhortation, a word of encouragement, a plea for you to do that paradoxical thing about remembering the future across a large expanse of time. The future which I can remember for this Diocese looks daunting, very different, and such an adventure that no one would want to be left out.

 

To remember the future I have to start with some of the important might-have-beens of my seventeen years as your bishop. Do I have regrets? You bet I do. To say I have no regrets is either an expression of egotism or else the sign of an un-reflected life. I have three to name before you, although they are hardly the only ones.

 

I regret that we do not have at least one deacon in every parish or mission, as I had intended at the beginning of my ministry here among you. There were three deacons when I arrived, and since then we have ordained some twenty more of them.

They make an enormous difference in providing servant leadership, wherever they are, and there are not nearly enough of them.

 

Secondly, and on a similar note, we do not have nearly enough priests; in fact we are on the cliff edge of a serious priest shortage. We do not have enough seminary-trained priests, and we do not have enough locally-trained priests. A mixed ecology of these two sorts of priests, leavened by the presence of deacons also, is what a good future looks like. I think that I have had a good idea about what the shape of ordained ministry will be, and I regret that I did not accomplish more toward that end. Which will leave this Diocese facing shortages. What to do about that is an open question, and one now not for me to settle. I will have more to say about this later.

Third. My biggest regret. I have tried to hold in one hand the ideals of fullest possible inclusion possible for LGBT people among us, and in the other hand the highest degree of belonging among the forty provinces of the Anglican Communion. Sexuality and communion. Sometimes I got it more or less correct, and sometimes I dropped things from one hand or another. I apologize to you, for dropping something which you might treasure, from either hand. I have done some dropping.

 

The Lambeth Conference in 2008 was a turning point for my understanding around issues of human sexuality and the Anglican Communion. As to Communion, two things became clear to me. First, I discovered that I care far more about belonging to one another in Christ than some of the most strident apologists and enforcers for the Communion. That was a surprise. And a contradiction—because it appeared to me that some of the most vociferous proponents for the Anglican Communion were the ones most likely to cause its undoing.

 

The second insight was that the reality of the Communion proved more robust and resilient than many of us imagined. Related to this was an insight that Communion relationships were not likely to get much better, or much worse. The Communion actually does belong to God. I cannot fix what ails it, and I am not responsible if it falls, or becomes less than what it is. It’s God’s Communion. Let me say that it is actually a relief to remember who is God—and who is not.

 

I came back from England in August 2008 much less anxious about matters of Communion and human sexuality. More intent simply to proceed in an orderly way on the path toward full inclusion for LGBT Christians in our midst. I do regret my occasional fumbling in the years before 2008, fumbling which hurt some of you.

 

To the purpose of fullest possible inclusion, I have new responsibilities for ministries as bishop in three parishes in the Diocese of Dallas, congregations who want to offer same-sex marriage but whose bishop himself chooses not oversee the rite. I will be there at the invitation of Bishop George Sumner, whom I know as friend and colleague. My ministry will be an imperfect and temporary measure to provide for the rites, yes, but also to allow some space for the parishes, and for the bishop and for others in the Diocese. Space to remain in relationship.

 

As I continue to mull our past as preparation for remembering our future, let me now name five matters about which I have no regrets.

 

The first may sound administratively mundane, but it has made an enormous difference in our life together. Before 2008, the Diocese of Missouri had been rolling deficits in our budget for so long, decades long, that we no longer realized that we were doing it.

When Tom Hedrick had been treasurer long enough to make sense out of our financial landscape, he said, This is going to stop, because it is not sustainable. He was right, and Diocesan Council and my staff began the work of building a responsible budget. That style of budget invariably requires personnel cut-backs, because no place else has the numbers of dollars to effect change.

 

Over the past decade there have been three reductions in force among the people who work in my office. None was easy, because reductions in force affect people whom we know and about whom we care. When I became Bishop of Missouri in 2002, my staff included positions amounting to thirteen-and-a-half full time equivalents. At this moment, there are seven-and-a-half full time equivalents. This-size-staff actually fits our-size-Diocese more effectively.

 

More to the point, these hard decisions freed money for mission and have boosted the morale among elected leadership, who once had to expend a lot of energy managing deficits.  It is better this way. We are better stewards. We are better at mission. My thanks to Tom Hedrick, to Director of Finance Desiree Brattin, in my office, to finance committees and Diocesan Councils over the past decade. It may seem like a boring administrative matter. It has in fact made a huge difference for our common life. The freeing-up of finances has made it possible to take some audacious initiatives in mission and ministry.

 

Which leads me to item number two: Deaconess Anne House. This intentional community for young adults founded in 2012, part of a church-wide network called the Episcopal Service Corps, works from a house in Old North Saint Louis, a historic neighborhood about two miles north of here. The presence of this community has allowed our Diocese to stake a new sort of claim for ministry in St. Louis City. The footprint of Deaconess Anne House is far larger than the number of people who have lived there suggests. It extends into almost every corner of the Diocese, and it has become a center for mission for many of our parishes. In the months and years since Ferguson became a word loaded with meanings about the historic and current racisms here, the House became a rallying point for our Church’s response. Its gift for us became obvious.

 

Corps Members have been blessed to have a formation in life and faith that they would not have otherwise had. People who have lived in the House have discerned calls to all sorts of ministry, lay and ordained, both in this Diocese and beyond. It is a ministry dynamo. It is a pearl of great price, something costly, yes, but something to be cherished beyond expectations. Deaconess Anne House is a gift of the Spirit for us. I give a shout out to the three successive directors of the community: Jonathan Stratton, Rebecca Ragland, and Jillian Smith. They have each been the right leader at the right time, and I am proud of them all.

 

Related is item number three, our partnership with the Diocese of Lui in South Sudan, which draws to a close with this convention, at the recommendation of the Companion Diocese Committee. As it happens 2020, the year of my retirement, is also the centennial of Christianity first coming to Lui. Dr. Kenneth Fraser went to Lui in 1920, this Scottish physician who taught the Gospel to the Moru people.

 

The end of my episcopate, and a significant anniversary, both the same year. It also comes at a time when it is not safe for Missourians to travel to South Sudan, and difficult for our friends there to get documents to travel to the USA. Over forty Missourians have travelled to Lui since 2004, and about a dozen of the Moru people have come to Missouri. Bishop Stephen lived among us while he was studying at Eden Seminary. We have lasting friendships across two continents.

 

It has been a blessing to be in partnership with Christians in such different circumstances, in a place difficult to get to, in a culture so unlike ours, with challenges unimaginable. The partnership has been life-giving, and it is also time to forge a new partnership.

It is right for my successor to provide the leadership in doing so. Mission to a place that is other and difficult is not an option. Mission is the life-blood of the Church, and I plead with you not to settle for less.  

 

Item number four is that the Diocese of Missouri has been able to stretch resources to build a Church for St. Francis’ in Eureka. It is a blessing to that mission congregation, a blessing for far west St. Louis County and its communities, a blessing for our Diocese to be part of something new and growing. No regrets here.

 

Item number five is another new venture, Faith Christian Church of India, who worship at St. Luke’s, Manchester.  This Church, founded by wife and husband presbyters who come here from the Church of South India, Sujanna Raj and Clive Samson, seeks to minister to the expatriate Christian community from South Asia, living in St. Louis City and County. You will hear a report from them. But know this: our ability to stretch resources to fund something this Diocese has never done before is a great gift to everyone involved. This kind of ministry, beyond what is familiar and usual, is the sort of thing to generate more energy than it consumes.

 

So I come to that part about remembering the future. Which no Christian need fear, since we know God awaits us. Though it is daunting and a little scary. But no one would want to miss it. I have three things to say about this future: Buildings. Ministries. And demographics.

 

First the buildings. We have a lot of old ones. We are in an old and beautiful one. An historic one, a congregation founded in 1819, this building having been completed in 1867.

These old buildings are blessing and they are conundrum. They will drain us of money, and they will drain us with worry and use up emotional capital. Marcus Halley, a priest in Minnesota, tweeted earlier this year that a lot of our parishes are one busted boiler from going out of existence. And so they are.

 

But we cannot take on a spiritualist attitude and say, Oh the buildings don’t matter. A faith like ours which stakes so much on incarnation and embodiment and physicality may not say that buildings don’t matter. But at the same time the Church cannot deteriorate into all property management, all the time.  

 

The Diocese of Missouri will have buildings in its future—and choices about them. Including this one; including questions about what it even means to have a Cathedral. Blessing and conundrum. The buildings from our past await us in God’s future.

 

Ministries. I alluded to this part of our future in what I said about deacons—and more deacons—and a mixed ecology of seminary- and locally-trained priests. I think that ministry in our Church’s future requires an even more robust re-imagining than this.

 

I have spoken for years about the place where we find ourselves after Christendom.

It is a secular culture around us. There may still be a lot of religious and evangelical-sounding noise to distract us, but even that noise is mostly cover for underlying secular structures. This is no bad thing for the Church; it instead gives us the opportunity to rediscover our truest identity as the Body of Christ.

 

A great resource for the future that is ours in God is our deepest history. Post-Christendom has the treasure of a record from the Pre-Christendom era. The first four or five centuries of this era tell us about Christians who occasionally suffered outright persecution, yes, but mostly they tell about people who suffered low-grade oppression—and even in that mainly a calculated indifference. We are entering another era of calculated indifference from the surrounding culture. It is happening at precisely the moment when our Church is facing a decrease in numbers among the ordained. Talk to Canon Joe Chambers about this reality. Talk to any transition minister, in any of our dioceses.

 

The antidote, I think, is twofold. And it is not simply a matter of ordaining more people.

I think that a clearer focus about what we expect from the ordained would be helpful. Clearer and narrower. What we receive from the ordained then will actually then go farther. A priest, for example, who is not consumed by property management or fund-raising finds freedom for a more broad-ranging pastoral and sacramental ministry. Which are the basics of the order. A bishop also, I think, freed from the corporate weight of so many board meetings, finds freedom to do more actual bishop-ing. And could cover more territory in the course of it.

 

The future looks like lots of new configurations, priests and deacons providing ministry for more than one parish—parishes who would have to lose their competitive legacy among one another, for a better way of life. Bishops tending to more than one diocese. I plead with you: Don’t resist these movements; learn to look for them. I think that they will prove life-giving.

 

And second, we must get real about baptism and formation, for the sake of following Jesus more closely. Jesus, risen from the dead, spoke these last words to his disciples, in Matthew’s gospel: Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. The main verb is Go and Make Disciples. The two means for doing such a thing: Baptize. And Teach. This is the right formula for facing our future.

 

I do not know the details of this future. But I do know that it will be different. And compelling.

 

Everything is connected to everything else, which leads to a final characteristic for God’s future. Demographics. Anyone who studies the math of who we are now and who we are likely to become says that we will become a much smaller Church. The truth is not fatalist or defeatist. It is demographic. It is true for all the Churches in North America, and it is especially true for the Episcopal Church.

 

For my entire episcopate, I have known that we are Church in systemic decline. Not just decline from recent trends, not even decline because of big box Churches (who are themselves in decline—they just don’t admit it.) Not a decline because of this controversial decision of the General Convention or that one. We are reaping the results of patterns and practices which began in the 1930s and coalesced in the 1950s.

 

The question that I wrestle with is this one: What is God asking from a Church in systematic decline? Well, I think that God asks for faithfulness, against that growing secular backdrop. I think that God asks us to be more recognizable as disciples of Jesus. I think that God asks us to baptize and to be baptized, to teach and to learn, and to hold more closely to these practices. For the sake of the world. I list by title some of the small Churches in our world who make an enormous difference, leveraging by grace more than expected. Mustard seed Churches.

 

The Moravian Church. The Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht. The Mennonites. Miniscule Churches—numbering in the thousands, not millions. And look at the tiny monastic and other religious communities in our own Church—little bitty things that provide leaven for the whole Church. In small Churches, in tiny corners of this Church, clarity of purpose and identity become crucial, as well as theological integrity and a missional resolve.

 

Another example is one which I described at length two years ago, the so-called Confessing Church in Germany, which emerged in the 1930s in opposition to that prevailing cultural tsunami called National Socialism, the Nazis. These Christians went against the tide. And at their peak, the Confessing Church was six thousand strong. Ponder that. They provided the seed-bed for postwar Christianity everywhere in Europe. God uses what is small. And especially if the small thing has a purpose, and integrity, and will risk the world for the sake of following Jesus.

 

The gospel hymn Beulah Land expresses in poetical language this matter of remembering the future. “I’m kind of homesick for a country to which I have never been before.” That’s it. Not pie in the sky in the sweet by and by. But a homesickness. Which comes from what we know in the past and which Christian hope informs. Which is not that every little thing is going to be all right. But that come what may, God awaits.

 

An informed homesickness, which grows out of deep belief and discipleship. That’s a future worth remembering.

 

Author: Beth Felice

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Need more information? Contact Beth Felice, diocesan director of communications

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