Living Gospel, Community Impact Drive Vision

We all have stories we tell about ourselves when we’re with friends or family. These stories are different and they don’t necessarily come together. We tell them to ourselves in order to navigate a complex world, whether it’s our private lives and our role in public life—even the society in which we live or the political situation in which we find ourselves. We navigate the world in a very fractured way.

This is true in our private lives as it is true in the lives of our congregations. I’m curious about the characters in our diocesan story and what virtues are revealed that show who we are as an Episcopal community together.

The Diocese is not an office on Texas Avenue in Houston. It is not a church alone or a bishop or a rector. We in Houston are not an office at the top of some kind of episcopal, hierarchical organizational chart in relationship to our congregations.

Kenneth “Ken” Earl Wilber, an American author, and Rolf Sattler, a plant biologist specializing in plant morphology, propose an “integral theory” for how similar relationships work. Their studies reveal that in nature there are “holarchies.” Applying their work, we discover that our relationships within the structure may be more like a set of nesting dolls.

As a Diocese, we are a family of interrelated stories. Each of us shares an integral part of a whole story—a community of congregations, of clergy, of the baptized—no matter where we find ourselves, no matter what role we play. We are a part of a story that stretches into the many contacts of the 57 counties and the lives around us. This is all in turn part of a wider community of dioceses within the Episcopal Church, our global Anglican family … all of us working to tell one story, actually, The Story.

The story that we are ultimately invited into is not a story about me, nor is it a story about you as an individual, or even a story about our Diocese or the workplace or churches or politics and its machinations. Instead, as we believe, it is God’s story.

You and I are invited into God’s story. And it is God who does the inviting. It is God who weaves us into one common fabric. There is one story, God’s story, a story of God’s own making … of God’s creation, a story that we don’t make up about God, but instead a story that God invites us to enter into. It is God who desires, who creates us in order that we might participate in God’s own story and narrative. It is a story that winds its way from Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, to the kind of proto-creation stories that help us understand who God is and what God is about. These stories make their way through Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Rachel, they make their way through all of history to today, and to us. God has not simply sent the apostles but our reading of God’s story tells us that God sends people … God is sending us.

The story is the Missio Dei—God’s mission. It is a mission of reconciliation through which God intends to be in relationship with creation and God’s people and we, as part of that family, as part of that story, are ourselves undertaking it. We are the Church, we are being sent. We become the chief characters in it. We are not the heroes of our story but the virtuous citizens within God’s story. Each of us is part of a great unfolding narrative.

And so as we reflect in this magazine about our work over the last year and take a look into the future, we do not do so from the standpoint of what we have accomplished, but what God accomplishes through us as part of God’s story of reconciliation.

So it is that I look back with joy at all that God has done across the Diocese in the past year, and forward with hope and anticipation for the coming season! As the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, we serve more than 200 Episcopal congregations and communities from Longview to Palacios, inspiring Texans seeking God to birth new communities and nurture relationships among them.

Hurricane Harvey had a dramatic impact on many parts of our Diocese and beyond in 2017. Responding to the hurricane was a major emphasis of our 2018 work and we have been able to fully implement Harvey Recovery. This includes both a financial plan for impacted congregations as well as an overall mission-oriented recovery with metrics and clear connections for congregational involvement. What is truly amazing is that we were also able to do all this while continuing our other work.

In 2018 we initiated church plants in South Austin, Northeast Houston and Pflugerville, and 22 missional communities were created across the Diocese. This is the tangible result of our relationship-building work across our communities. This brings to 10 the number of churches planted since 2008, and 89 missional communities.

We continue to build relationships across the Church as well. One of the highlights of 2018 was hosting the 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Austin. It is no overstatement when I say our hosting efforts were a huge success. Visitors from across our Church remarked upon the Texas hospitality they received from many of you who volunteered throughout the Convention.

Inside the Diocese, one of our goals is to provide tools and resources for practical ministry needs. We were able in 2018 to help congregations negotiate loans with lower interest rates through our finance department. In addition, we began to offer planned giving presentations for congregations. We also maximized our interest earnings to free up more dollars for mission.

In 2019, we are excited to continue to expand the reach of the Episcopal Church in our Diocese. We have set the goal of planting three congregations and 25 missional communities.

Another emphasis will be to start or restart campus missions at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s). Last spring, we established a student organization at Texas Southern University, and this fall we began work at Texas College, Tyler. We intend to reboot a ministry with students at Prairie View A&M in the fall of 2019.

As a Diocese we look forward to electing a new bishop suffragan for the West region and to integrating that person into the life of the Diocese and our leadership team.

A diocesan liturgical commission has been formed under the leadership of Bishop Suffragan Jeff Fisher. They are prepared to follow up on the work of General Convention to collect and evaluate worship resources. This year the commission will help us by looking at non-eucharistic worship, especially for small churches.

Another goal for 2019 is to evaluate where we are in terms of leadership diversity, specifically looking at the rectors of our larger parishes. We will be in conversation to encourage and recruit the best candidates for positions. The congregations truly seeking the strongest priests will find that the best candidates do not all look the same. As we seek to minister to a diverse and multicultural world, we expect that our leadership reflects the diversity of our communities.

In addition, our communications department will be reorganizing and imagining a future course of leadership. Through Carol Barnwell’s leadership over the past three decades, we have led the Church in communications. We are excited about our future because she has left us with a strong foundation.

There is much to give thanks for as we look back at 2018 and much to be excited about as we look ahead to 2019. At this moment, let us pause and give thanks to God for the gift of invitation to be part of God’s missional story—an invitation that includes the work of this Diocese, the gift of meaningful work, our congregations, missions, campus missions, missional communities, schools and other institutions, and for all of our clergy. Let us pray for a renewed spirit to continue the work God has given us to do. And let us give thanks for God in Christ Jesus, our Savior, and Emmanuel, who is with us and always goes before us, to lead us and guide us. Amen.

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