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Feb 14, 2016 | C. Andrew Doyle

Bishop's Presentation 167th Council Part I of II

 

Like last year, I am going to break my address into two sections. The first is a presentation on mission and the second will come later in our program prior to our report from Constitution and Canons.

 

I want to begin with a favorite quote from liturgist Dom Gregory Dix wrote on the purpose of the Eucharist:

 

Was ever another command so obeyed?

For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent

and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every

conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need from infancy and before it

to extreme old age and after it,

from the pinnacle of earthly greatness to the refuge of fugitives in the caves and dens of the earth.

[People] have found no better thing than this to do for kings at their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold;

for armies in triumph or for a bride

and bridegroom in a little country church;

for the proclamation of a dogma or for a good crop of wheat;

for the wisdom of the Parliament of a mighty nation or for a sick old woman afraid to die;

for a schoolboy sitting an examination

for the famine of whole provinces or for the soul of a dead lover;

in thankfulness because my father did not die of pneumonia; for

a village headman much tempted to return to fetish because the yams had failed; because the Turk was at the gates of Vienna;

for the repentance of Margaret; for the settlement of a strike;

for a son for a barren woman; for Captain so-and-so wounded and prisoner of war; while the lions roared in the nearby amphitheater; on the beach at Dunkirk;

while the hiss of scythes in the thick June grass came faintly through the windows of the church; tremulously, by an old monk on the fiftieth anniversary of his vows;

furtively, by an exiled bishop who had hewn timber all day in a prison camp near Murmansk; gorgeously, for the canonization of S. Joan of Arc—one could fill many pages [Dix wrote] with the reasons why [people] have done this, and not tell a hundredth part of them.

And best of all, week by week and month by month, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly, across all the parishes of Christendom, the pastors have done this …[the purpose of this act… Dix is reminding us, the purpose of the act is not the bread/wine chalice/paton but what it does…that is] to make the plebs sancta Dei—the holy common people of God.

 

The Common and the common people of God made holy because of love … for the purpose of mission. It is not so much that liturgy is the work of the people, but that liturgy makes a people for the work of mission. We in the Diocese of Texas have been faithful in this work--this work of love. We are a common people, a faithful people … a common people and a holy people. We are faithful and holy not because our work but of God’s faith in us and because God is Holy. We are the sheep of his pasture and, the love of his heart for the purpose of mission.

 

And so we make Christian community. We have received our inheritance of God’s mission and we have been faithful. In cities and in towns, we have made Eucharist, we have baptized. We have prayed with the living and the dying. We have been present in the lives of literally millions of people across our 167 years of existence. We have made a difference and we have been faithful.

 

We have reached a particular moment as a diocese. Having chosen to set aside our differences–our faithful undertaking of God’s mission here is flourishing. Every week your three bishops bear witness to this transformation.

 

And yet, as we reflect we also are reminded of our place, our humble place, the gift of place in this work.

 

We know that no matter how well we plead our case or argue our position if we do not have love for one another then we are nothing more than clanging cymbal. We know that no matter how well we seek to understand the mysteries of Christ or the future of our mission, to understand congregational life … even if we have faith like a mustard seed–and if we don’t pause to love by sharing a Gospel of love and by serving others–we are nothing.

 

We know that no matter how much we have or give or share or offer to God, if we do not love and see that love incarnate in action within our communities–we gain nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1–13). Love is essential. Love is action in favor of the other. Love is bold and love is embracing. Love is ensuring God’s mission is successful.

 

Loving means we are patient in our disagreements. Loving means we are kind to one another. Love means we do not boast in our being right or wrong. Love is not arrogant or rude. Love seeks to do the right things and rejoices in the eternal search for truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Why is this? Why is love so essential to God’s mission. Why is church so essential to practice of love with one another?

 

Because all this will come to an end–prophecies, tongues, knowledge, childish ways of being self-centered, being right, making everything about me. Why? Because the truth is, Paul and Jesus, and all the hosts of God have, from the beginning, reminded us – you and me – we only see in part … we only see dimly … until we see Jesus … until we meet God – none of us, none of us, fully know …

 

So we abide in faith.

We abide in hope.

We abide in love.

 

But more than anything else…we abide in love. Like the movie character the Dude, we abide. We abide in love. So, what can I say? What am I to boast in? How shall we judge success?

 

We placed more than $7M in 2015 into congregational evangelism and service efforts. That is more than it costs to run your diocesan office and it and it does not include the $16.5 M given to nonprofits and Episcopal churches for health work.

 

We continued to deploy and ordain more people than 90% of the other dioceses in the country. We have once again increased our diverse leadership outpacing all Episcopal Church averages. For the second year in a row, we confirmed more people and baptized more people than any other diocese last year. There are some Sundays when we bring more people into the church than a given diocese might bring in all year. We have the third largest membership out of 111 dioceses behind Haiti and Virginia. We have the largest Average Sunday Attendance than any other diocese. Meanwhile, 89% of all other Episcopal diocese lost members.

 

While only 18% of all Episcopal Church congregations showed growth over a 5-year continuum, in the Diocese of Texas, 43% of our congregations have shown continuous growth over the last 5 years and 52% showed growth last year.

 

We grew and are growing because of our focus on mission. We are focused on mission and the sharing of God in Christ Jesus and God’s love for all people through evangelism and service. We are focused and so while all of these numbers may pass away, what we know is that we must endeavor to work hard for the kingdom of God.

 

In the immortal words of these two characters, the blues brothers: We are on a mission from God.

 

We are seeking, not only to understand how to do our Gospel work in this time, but how do we write the narrative of a growing thriving Christian community in the next 50 years. We are making the future today. We are not satisfied with churches in chronic decline so we are seeking to find ways to turn the tables on economic variables and provide for future ministry.

 

We know that plateaued attractional churches will slowly decrease and move toward lethargy if they are not transformed through leadership and vision and reconnecting with their local context and the community outside their doors.

We understand better than most that growing churches aren’t much good to God if we are not transforming peoples’ lives into disciples and sending them out as apostles to share the good news, transform the culture and make a better neighborhood, community and society for all people.

 

Oh, don’t you worry there are plenty who will blame the new generation saying they don’t join things – and they are wrong. There are some who will say you got to be for us or against them in order to grow – and they are wrong. There are some who say you have to have money to grow – and they are wrong. There are some who say you have to have a priest to grow – and they are wrong. There are some who will say you can’t be part of a denomination if you want to grow, or at least THAT denomination – and they are wrong.

 

Those are just excuses … excuses every day being proven wrong by adventurous, creative, tenacious, missionary congregations in the Diocese of Texas. Faith in God in Christ Jesus, hope in salvation, openness to the leading of the Holy Spirit and a belief that we are called to undertake the mission of God…that is what is needed.

 

Travel light. Rest on the hospitality of others. Don’t worry about the grumpy ones. Answer the call. Pick up your cross of comfort and get uncomfortable. We seek, we pray and ask to be empowered by the Holy Spirit to go out and to create all kinds of avenues for God’s people to find a home in the Episcopal Church. We are planting communities, multiplying our churches, building new doorways for people to find a life-giving Christian community – greenfields and missional communities. Twenty-five new churches, 21 to go. Fifty missional communities, 40 to go.

 

We are not about helping people find easy answers to difficult questions. We are about helping people live through difficult lives because of the love of God, and our hope in his grace and mercy, and the helping, loving hands of friends and neighbors. We are not satisfied with the denominational church status quo but we are focused on teaching the world that the denominational church can grow if it will but stop its fighting and whining and get on with the mission of God.

 

When bishop Curry says we are part of the Jesus movement, the Diocese of Texas answers, Yes we are, we are here and we are on the move.

 

We will support all 110 other diocese in the Episcopal church by giving and by sharing what we have and what we learn. We will support our relationships with over 40 different diocese and provinces across the global Anglican communion. We will support our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, and the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion Josiah Fearon and the leaders of the Anglican Consultative Council in a communion focused on mission, reconciliation, and spiritual growth.

 

And, though we will be generous in our giving of resources both financial and human. We will also be generous in our listening, in our learning, and in our embracing of all those who are different from ourselves.

 

And, we will boldly claim that while we will carry on the tradition of the apostles in the breaking of bread, reading of scripture, prayers and service–in no way will we be satisfied or intend to be the church of our ancestors, the church of our forefathers, the church of yesteryear or a bygone era.

 

No. We intend to be the church of future generations of Episcopalians–one that is alive and well and flourishing in the 50 and 100 years to come.

 

We are a Eucharistic people. A liturgically formed people. The common holy people of God for the sake of mission.

 

We are willing to say, “Here I am, send me.” That is the diocese I dream about. That is the Diocese we are becoming. That is the Diocese that is united. That is the Diocese that is worshiping together. That is the Diocese that forgives one another. That is the Diocese that lifts each other up and supports one another. That my friends is the Diocese of Texas, the Diocese I love, the Diocese I am, and will forever, be proud to call home.

 

And, because that is who we are I am going to ask you to say so to the rest of the church – here we are join us.

I am passing along a statement of our intent. We aren’t going to vote on it. We are going to sign it. I invite you, I do not force you, but I invite you, to sign this statement. Once signed, we are going to send it out as a letter to the rest of Christ’s one holy catholic and apostolic church. We are going to commit to being the Church of God in Christ Jesus and to be about his mission. The letter now being passed out for your signature.

 

Let me read it to you:

 

To our brothers and sisters in the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Communion, and in Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church all over the world:

 

Peace be with you and greetings. We the people of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, meeting at our 167th Diocesan Council reaffirm our commitment to be Christ’s body in the world. In spite of distractions and controversies we will remain focused on the mission and ministry of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We will BE the church today and for tomorrow.

 

To be the church means that we are one because we are one Body, under one head, our Lord Jesus Christ. We are catholic because we proclaim the whole faith to all people. We are apostolic because we strive to continue the teaching and fellowship of the apostles and their work of being sent to carry out Christ’s mission to all people. We are communities of followers guided by the Holy Spirit to do God’s work wherever it takes us.

 

That work of mission is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.

 

We undertake this mission through evangelism and service – prayer, worship, proclaiming the Gospel, loving others, working with our neighbors to transform the world around us, and making peace. (BCP 1979, Catechism, 854ff)

 

We pledge our energy, our gifts, our time, our buildings, property, and our money to becoming a church that offers itself for the kingdom and mission of God.

 

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