SealsJoint Pastoral Letter on the Renewal of Western New York

December 14, 2014
Third Sunday of Advent

To Our Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

This letter comes to you on the Third Sunday of Advent, when we Christians continue our journey from darkness into light. As we sing in the familiar Advent hymn, we remember Israel, “that mourns in lonely exile here/ until the Son of God appear.” This is a time for anticipation, waiting, and joyful expectation of new light and new life. Soon we shall celebrate again that Emmanuel — God with us — is here.

This is a pioneering letter. It comes to you from two bishops — Roman Catholic and Episcopal — who, incidentally, live just a block from each other in Buffalo’s Elmwood Village. We join in writing this letter because the new light and the new life that we write about affects all of Western New York and the two dioceses we lead as bishops, not just the City of Buffalo or County of Erie.

There could be no more dramatic example of the interdependence of the City of Buffalo and the region surrounding it than the lake-effect snowstorm of mid-November. The city and the northern suburbs received virtually no snow, but the suburbs and counties to the south and east were pounded with record-breaking snowfall. We saw what happens when we are cut off from each other. Employees were unable to get to work. Roads that were drifted shut with six feet of snow meant no deliveries of goods and services. School and church services were cancelled. Rescue vehicles and ambulances could not get through.

We can measure the cost in lost productivity — dollars and cents — but more importantly, we can measure the cost in what happens when we are unable to function as one united region, cooperating with one another, relying on each other, supporting and benefitting each other. It doesn’t matter that there is no snow in North Buffalo when Lackawanna and Lancaster and even Cowlesville in Wyoming County are overwhelmed, when hundreds of vehicles are stranded on the Thruway, when buildings are collapsing, when the entire region cannot operate normally. The snowplows cleared the roads for all of us.

This historic corner of New York has always been the home of pioneers who saw what many others did not: the value of hydropower from Niagara Falls, the significance of the Erie Canal to open up what was then the Western Frontier, arts and culture in Chautauqua and at the Roycroft, the verdant agricultural and timber lands of Western New York, the value of key positions on the railroad lines between New York City and Lake Erie, Buffalo as the Queen City, reigning proudly over shipping and heavy industry on the Great Lakes and beyond.

It has also been a pioneering place for those who knew that justice, freedom, peace, and dignity reap their own benefits. As a region we have historically supported the abolition of slavery, the extension of rights to all people, and religious tolerance, though we did not always respect and protect the dignity and culture of our Native American peoples.

Today, after many decades of decline, the City of Buffalo — and by extension, all of Western New York — is on the brink of unprecedented prosperity: new business, new investment, new construction — accomplishments unimaginable 20 years ago. A new generation of Western New Yorkers is envisioning new opportunities and making them a reality. With regard to education, medicine, technology and quality of life, this is the time for which we have all waited and prayed and worked. This wave of prosperity benefits not only the city, but also the entire region.

Yet at this time not everyone is benefitting. Blacks and Hispanics still live in poverty in greater proportion than do other groups in our population. Children still go to bed hungry. Jobs and security elude too many families. And because some are left out and locked out, the rest of us are poorer. We fail to benefit as much as we might from this new golden age.

This must change.

And positive change is possible for gone are the days when the photographs of our leaders show mainly images of white men.

Gone are the days when we ignore leadership and authority in the voices of women or those who first spoke a language other than English.

Gone are the days when the creativity and innovation of those whose experiences and backgrounds — different from our own — are excluded from our work force, our cultural circles and our educational institutions.

But there is still much to be done, for gone too are the days when the wages paid to many for a 40-hour workweek are sufficient enough to pay for basic housing and food for workers and their families.

And yet, this is the start of a new day.

For us as Christians, as bishops, as spiritual leaders of this region, this new day is not just an economic concern, or a business concern, or a public relations concern. For us, it is a Gospel concern. In this new day before us we hope to see The Kingdom of God on earth reflect the community Jesus built around him: full of women and men, minorities, the poor, and the marginalized. In this new day we hope there will be plenty for everyone, that all will share in the bounty, and labor will be adequately rewarded. We envision a just society where the dignity of every human being is respected.

This is our hope for Western New York, where the prosperity generated in one place of renewal must ripple throughout the region. The economic renewal of our region must be a renewal of the Gospel values and ethics that we share as sisters and brothers in the Christian faith. What we say and pray on Sundays must now go out into the world, into the workplace, to the ballot box and to the councils of government to ensure that Western New York becomes a more prosperous community, not only in dollars, but in our investment in each other. Jesus did not call for a society in which each person was out solely for personal gain. He called for a kingdom of shared prosperity, generosity and justice, a society that is more human because it is in conformity with the Kingdom of God.

We have been pioneers once in settling this region. We ask you now to be pioneers again in supporting efforts to maximize the strengths and gifts of those — all women and all men, native-born and immigrants — who offer their skills and their desire to prosper and make our region prosper once again.

The richness of a diverse workforce enriches all of us.

Therefore, we as two bishops of our Churches urge our leaders in both business and politics to further all efforts to make opportunities for employment, training, and advancement that grow out of this hopeful time of growth and expansion accessible to all.

The Bible is full of questions about, “Who is my neighbor?” and “To whom am I a neighbor?” In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us that when we do right by and for others, we serve Jesus. God now offers Western New York this opportunity to live out our faith in a way that strengthens our communities for today and for tomorrow creates a better region for our children and our grandchildren — where all they have to offer will be valued and rewarded.

Join us in advancing this noble and creative vision of hope and renewal.

Yours in Christ,

R. William Franklin
Bishop
Episcopal Diocese of Western New York

Richard J. Malone
Bishop
Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo

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Statement to the Diocese of Western New York on the Aftermath of Ferguson

In the aftermath of the grand jury’s decision just a week ago not to indict white police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown we see how differently blacks and whites view the issues of race. How different our expectations are of how we will be treated by law enforcement. There is fear in the white community and despair in the black community, and violence offers a temporary remedy and a relief from decades of pain and frustration.

The parents of white teen-age sons believe their children will come home safe at night. The parents of color have no reason for such assurance.

Our Presiding Bishop said last week, “All Americans live with the consequences of centuries of slavery, exploitation, and prejudice. The color of one’s skin is often the most visible representation of what divides God’s children one from another.”

This is a highly personal issue for me. I spent the first 18 years of my life in Mississippi, in a society where the vestiges of black enslavement existed in a complete segregation of the races. As a boy I was forbidden to experience the gifts and talents and experiences of half of our state’s population. As a consequence of segregation, my early life was culturally and spiritually diminished by the reality of the separation of the races.

I saw firsthand the stranglehold of the Jim Crow laws that had kept African-Americans in an inferior status in the South for more than 100 years after the Civil War. I witnessed firsthand the hatred and violence of whites who were entrenched in power as the grip of segregation was finally broken during the Civil Rights era.

As we continue our walk through Advent and await the arrival of our Savior, we are charged to “cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” I can think of no better metaphor for the work we are called to do now.

We had initial conversations at our Diocesan Convention about race and poverty and inequality and how those three issues make a negative impact on the lives of all who live in Western New York.
In the aftermath of Ferguson, I thank our African American clergy for inviting our Diocese to think and talk and pray together. On November 25, the Very Rev. Gloria Payne-Carter, chair of the Diocesan Anti-Racism Commission, issued a call for prayer in our congregations for deliverance from complacency and for comfort to the wounded. Dean Will Mebane invited the Diocese to St. Paul’s Cathedral on November 30 for a special “Dialogue with the Dean: Finding Our Way After Ferguson.” Our historic African-American congregation at St. Philip’s, Buffalo invited the Diocese that same day for another discussion on Ferguson and the grand jury decision.

Future conversations in our Diocese on these topics are important because of this dismal statistic: The Buffalo metropolitan region is the most thoroughly segregated region in the United States according to a Rochester Area Community Foundation study of December 2013.

That is a mark of humiliation. That must change.

In the light of this statistic I am calling for action. At its December meeting I will be asking our Diocesan Council to develop a plan of action to further into 2015 the conversation we began at Diocesan Convention. This will be a concrete plan of action, accompanied by specific, accessible, and effective resources to help us to continue to talk about issues of race and segregation, poverty and inequality in Western New York. We must have these conversations together as a Diocese, and we need to move now from talk to action.

For us, this is a Gospel concern. A Gospel society will be a just society where the dignity of every human being is respected. We need to start talking now about how to make this Gospel society a reality.

We as a Diocese are looking at a variety of new ways to do ministry, groundbreaking ways to align ourselves with all our communities, to find places where what we can offer meets the actual needs of the people of Western New York…to be their neighbors.

The Bible is full of questions about “Who is my neighbor?” and “To whom am I a neighbor?” God offers us the opportunity of these conversations into 2015 on racial segregation to live out our faith in a way that strengthens our communities for today, and creates a better region, and a better Diocese, for our children and our grandchildren, our friends along with our neighbors—-where all they have to offer in its God-given diversity will be valued, treasured, and rewarded.

We need to proclaim the vision of a new City of Light, a region of light, and we need to be strong and courageous to do this work to make it reality.

As we move this Advent from darkness into light, my prayer is that these conversations can help us see how Emmanuel—God with us—is breaking through in new ways, all around us, so that we can find the face of God in each other.

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Salt and Light

Delivering the SermonThis was the sermon I delivered at our Diocesan Convention Eucharist (worship service) on Saturday, October 25, 2014.

Good Morning and Welcome to our Convention Eucharist!

This looks like one of those “mass mobs” I read about in the paper that had their start among our Roman Catholic friends in Buffalo—throngs of people who show up at a church that would normally attract a fraction of that number. All these church people worshipping by the side of a swimming pool at a hotel in Cheektowaga—who’d have thought it!

If this is our 177th annual convention, that means that our first convention would have taken place in 1837, when this diocese was part of the Diocese of New York, which covered the entire state. Andrew Jackson was president until March of that year.

At that time there were 42 steamboats plying Lake Erie.

And that was the year that Samuel F.B. Morse invented the telegraph—a harbinger of the communications revolution that was yet to come.

Most of you probably have in your pocket or your purse the latest development in that revolution, a smart phone that some of you are probably using right now to time this sermon.

I will try to make it worth your while.

Though I caution you about the old saying: “It is not just the bishop’s sermon that can seem to last for eternity.”

It was much more recently—1998, in fact—that the Intel chip was first used in Macintosh computers. The advertising slogan for this technological wonder was, “Imagine the possibilities.” Macintosh wanted users to think about all that they could accomplish with this powerful, fast chip.

As I began to study the lessons for today, it occurred to me that their theme is exactly the same: “Imagine the possibilities.” That is an excellent theme for us as we come together for this diocesan convention. Our readings assure us that with God at our side, the impossible will become possible.

In our first lesson, Isaiah is writing to a nation of Israel that has seen its city of Jerusalem destroyed. They themselves have been carried off to Babylon in captivity, their families separated, their beloved homes lost. There is nothing to be happy about—you remember the opening line from Psalm 137, “By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept.” It is so hard to maintain a belief in God when everything seems so lost, so hopeless, so wrong.

We as a diocese have been through hard times.

Yet it is to these weary, grief-stricken people that Isaiah gives a promise of hope and new life that is so lyrical, so lush and beautiful, that it feels as if it ought to be sung:

“You shall go out in joy and be led back in peace;
The mountains and the hills before your shall burst into song,
And all the trees of the forest shall clap their hands.”

 The trees of the forest shall clap their hands! What a beautiful image of all creation responding with praise and joy to the goodness of God.

Let me just stop here. Can we do that? Can we say that we believe so strongly in the new life and the powerful future that we are creating here in Western New York that, we, like the trees of the field, can clap our hands? Can we give a hand for all that we are going to do, with God’s help, to renew and refresh and rebuild our diocese and our communities? Can we clap our hands for that?

Clapping

Episcopalians clapping in church—talk about the impossible becoming possible: Thorns and briers—symbols of judgment and pain—will be gone, and instead we will see lush, lovely, shade-giving cypresses and myrtle.

After the agony of the Babylonian depopulation—torn from their neighborhoods and homeland, everything lost, many dead, captivity for a once-proud people—we have these symbols of renewal, rebirth, regeneration.

Imagine the possibilities.

The word that goes forth from God’s mouth shall not return to God empty, Isaiah tells us. It shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing which I sent it, God says.

This is God’s work.

When I read these words I feel as if God is putting a hand on our shoulders and giving us a blessing: that we will accomplish what God purposes, and prosper in accomplishing what God has in mind.

These are words of joy, of accomplishment and satisfaction, of challenge and fulfillment. Imagine the possibilities.

Our reading from Matthew’s Gospel is a very familiar one, about salt and light. It follows directly after the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus teaches the crowds the sayings we have come to know as the Beatitudes: proclaiming God’s favor to those who want to live under God’s rule….the mourners and the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those who are persecuted.

“You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus tells them. “You are the light of the world.”

Salt and light. What meaning do they have for us?

I pondered this Friday last week. After celebrating a week-day eucharist at our cathedral downtown, I was having a beef on weck at Charley the Butcher’s in the Ellicott Square Building also in downtown Buffalo. We can have our argument later about who does the best beef on weck in Western New York: whether it’s Charley’s, or Schwabl’s in West Seneca, or Eckl’s in Orchard Park, or Anderson’s, or somewhere else.

I love the way those crystals of kosher salt explode in your mouth, sinking into the beef juice and bringing the flavor of that wonderful sandwich to the peak of perfection.

Salt is one of those seasonings that is at its best when it is at its most subtle. My wife, Carmela, is a serious cook, and the room in our house where our marriage faces the most tension is the kitchen. The times I have seen her most annoyed with me in the kitchen are when she thinks something is undersalted—bland! Awful!—or when in my usual enthusiasm, I oversalt, and all you can taste is the salt.

Salt is at its best when it makes the food we’re salting taste most like itself…not when all we can taste is the salt. Salt alone is not a useful substance; we don’t eat spoonfuls of salt all by itself. It is useful as it is applied to other things.

And perhaps most tellingly, salt is a symbol for wisdom…and light. The Law of Moses was referred to as “Salt and Light” because it offered wisdom and enlightenment to those who studied and obeyed it.

“You ARE salt and light,” Jesus says. Not “you could be, if you so choose,” but the flat statement: no option. You ARE salt and light. It is your job to bring wisdom into the world, and not just by-the-book rote following the law, but the bold ability to follow not just the letter of the law but its spirit.

That means you can shake off the false gods. You ignore the temptations to be careless or indifferent—the “salt that has lost its taste.”

Bishop3You can get rid of the bushel baskets in our parishes that would hide your light and you can let it shine, let it glow, let it be seen by others “that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” You are the beacon, the lighthouse that makes a clear and safe path for others and draws them to you, and thence to God.

Imagine the possibilities.

So what are the possibilities we might imagine for ourselves as we strike out into this new territory…as we, the people of salt and light, look forward to our future in Western New York, a hospitable garden of rich possibility for the first time in over sixty years.

  • We want to make sure every child in Western New York knows how to read. This should in particular be the project of the Episcopal Church for so long a people of the book, or really two books, the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer.
  • We want to look at the way we form younger people. We talk about the millennials, we talk about the “nones,” we talk about our children and youth and our family ministries…and for too long we have talked about them as if they were separate things, instead of part of the unbroken arc of our lives in faith. We are going to focus on the first 30 years.

Toobers & ZotsImagine the possibilities.

  • We are working with our partners in the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania to learn how to do ministry together. In this we are real pioneers in the church today. Many dioceses are wondering how to save money, avoid duplication, share our strengths. We are doing more than wondering about it or talking about it. Bishop Sean Rowe of Northwestern Pennsylvania and I are taking concrete steps in what we believe will be a model, a demonstration project of cooperation for the rest of the wider Episcopal Church.

Bishop Sean and I are very excited about imagining the possibilities!

And you know what—right now we have everything we need to make all those possibilities into reality.

  • We have the people in this room—lay and clergy—and so many people all around our diocese who are committed, eager, ready to act.
  • We have the strength and the courage to will and to persevere even when things are not easy.
  • We have Emmanuel, God with us, to help us prosper in the things God wills.

Together we will do what our Lord Jesus Christ did: With mercy, justice, and dignity, we will change Western New York, and we will change the world.

Greeting worshippersImagine the possibilities.

Say it with me: Imagine the possibilities.

Amen

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Launching Health Awareness Week this October

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Eaton Summer Camp 2015

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