The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Bishop Dietsche's Address to Convention

On Saturday, I wrote about Bishop Andrew Dietsche's address to the Diocesan Convention. No video has been posted, but you can read the text here. I'd just like to highlight a few passages.

As a postulant for Holy Orders myself, I can't help but love the first substantive section:
One of the pleasures of my first months in this ministry has been getting to know those in the process for ordination to the diaconate or priesthood. It would be hard to find a more impressive or inspiring group of people, and as I anticipate their coming service in the leadership of the church it fills me with confidence for our future. And in light of the significant investment which we have in these postulants and candidates for holy orders, and the care with which we raise them up for ordained ministry, and the love we have for them, I ask you help me keep them in the Diocese of New York as they transition into their ministries. However much you may love your field education seminarian from Tampa or Seattle or the Aleutian Islands, I ask you in the strongest possible terms that when you look to hire new clergy you look first before others at our own. Within the next few weeks you will all receive a letter from me introducing and commending to you our new class of ordinands. I know you will be as impressed with them as I am.
What's telling there is he goes beyond a mere shout-out; as a prospective deacon, non-stipendiary in our diocese, I'll find work. But my brothers and sisters who are aspiring to priestly ordination have reason for fret, and their bishop wants to help. Practically, not just by words.

But here's the real meat, for me, of the address:
Bonhoeffer wrote:

"Our church, which has been fighting in these years only for its self-preservation, as though that were an end in itself, is incapable of taking the word of reconciliation and redemption to mankind and the world. Our earlier words are therefore bound to lose their force and cease, and our being Christians today will be limited to two things; prayer and righteous action among [people]. All Christian thinking, speaking, and organizing must be born anew out of this prayer and action."

The Episcopal Church began its long slow slide into numerical decline in the mid 1970s. From 1950 to 1975 our church doubled in size. From then to the end of the century we lost all of those gains, and the decline continues. In such a context, we have been consumed with questions of church growth in one way or another for thirty years. But we have talked about that in ways which have not only had no measurable effect at all but which have encouraged a nagging sense of failure. “The Decade of Evangelism.” “20/20.” Great endeavors quickly invented and just as quickly set aside. We have treated growth as a project, and so have developed the same strategies to grow the church that we see in other institutions, talking in the same language and according to the same principles -- forgetting that growth in the church whenever it happens is a movement of the Holy Spirit, and growth when it comes is always a grace and a gift.

In 2008 when the economy fell off a cliff, the underlying fears that drove that single-minded growth-consciousness were revealed in full. Even the minority of our churches which are increasing in numbers and those which are structurally and financially sound shared the fears. Even the backdrop to our current transition is the humming of a great anxiety.. . .

It is so easy to give up on the church. Lost, lost, lost! But it has always been a bad bet. There is a truth which we preach and proclaim but which is hard to remember when things aren’t going very well. In any case it seems to be a truth by which we are often afraid to live or afraid to trust, and that is that within the church, even in decline, there is a great power which is not of us but of another and which is continually arcing toward resurrection.

I believe that. And because I do believe that I want to ask that we excise a too-often-heard four-word expression from our vocabulary. Four words that seem brave and bold and realistic and smart when we say them but in fact with every utterance chain us more inextricably and hopelessly to our fears and to our lowest expectations of ourselves and our God. The words are: the church is dying.

We are not dying. Rather, it is our hour.

I want the Kingdom of Heaven. Tell him what you want. I want to see our churches be places in the common life our our cities and communities where all may see the seeds of equality and justice and righteousness that is the heart and mind of God. I want to see justice and righteousness roll down like mighty rivers from the doors of our churches. I want to see all the people of the world stand together in our churches -- of every race, gay and straight, male and female, young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor, and in the harmony of many languages -- living together in brotherhood and sisterhood before the God of history and one another. (I think I want to buy the world a Coke.) I want the peace which passeth understanding in our own day in the place where we are. I want to see my life and yours transformed by the love of God, and the weak made strong and the burdened given hope, and I want to see the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven adorned as a bride for her bridegroom. Tell him what you want. Should we not have these things? Have we not heard the promises of God? Are we not the risen ones, the heirs of the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Should we not be the ones to hear the waters of New York Harbor clap their hands and see the Catskill Mountains skip like young rams?

I want the Kingdom of Heaven. And if I can’t have the Kingdom of Heaven I don’t want anything else. I want the Kingdom of God, but if they aren’t giving out the Kingdom of God today what in the world else would I ask for? Another dollar for the budget? Or a million dollars or a hundred dollars?

When you tell Jesus what you want, you need to think about what you ask for. It has to be important. So dear friends, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on these things.” Want these things.
Read it all, because I think the Diocese of New York is in for a great new era, and this is the beginning.

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