In addition to my formal address during our Diocesan Convention (October 27-28), I also gave a light-hearted glimpse of my life and times since I became bishop. Here are the comments I made at the Convention banquet:
I was elected bishop in November 2010. Once you are elected Bishop, the Episcopal Church puts you, as a Baby Bishop, into something called Bishop School. You are given a coach who tries to shape you up for the job.
I was blessed that my coach was the saintly Bishop George Councell, Bishop of the Diocese of New Jersey. I would travel up to his office from Philadelphia in December and January for an afternoon of conversation, followed dinner.
Bishop Councell gave me a packet of classic texts on the office of Bishop. One was from Augustine, written in North Africa in 430. This is what Augustine said a millennium and a half ago:
“The day I became a bishop, a burden was laid on my shoulders for which it will be no easy task to render an account. To be honest with you, my obligations involve me in so much turmoil that I feel as though I were tossed by storms on a great ocean. I cannot do this without you. It is only by you and God’s grace that I can be a bishop. Make my ministry a fruitful one. You are God’s garden, and you should therefore welcome the laborer who does the visible work of planting and watering the seed, even though the growth comes from the one who works invisibly within you. Help me both by your prayers and wisdom to stand before what terrifies me, so that I do not despair.”
Well what terrifies me about my job is driving. And how much driving is a part of my job is symbolized by two things:
- See this road map of the diocese.—It was given to me in pristine condition 12 months ago by the search committee. Look at it now –tattered and torn from constant use, because although I rely on the nearly infallible GPS, I consult the map throughout every trip. So much so, that now it is going into tatters.
- Yesterday I noticed that I had put 11,000 miles on my Prius. Now, you have to realize that I bought this car just before my consecration last April. So as your bishop, I am spending more than half of each week driving.
Before moving here eight months ago, my experiences in Western New York were largely limited to visits for holidays and brief vacations when Carmela, the girls and I were chauffeured about by family members who enveloped us in their warmth and love.
So imagine my surprise when I discovered that not only does Western New York have snow, and lots of it, but that I actually have to drive in it!
We had lived in Rome and New York City and Philadelphia before coming to Western New York, and in none of these location did we own a car. So one of the very first things I did upon my arrival was to purchase this Prius from West Herr Ford in Orchard Park. And I tried to learn to drive again. Now my driving skills were a bit rusty, but not so rusty that I didn’t get stopped by a Tonawanda police officer on my first day heading to the office on Brigthton.
This actually put me in a good mood and was a sign of good luck to me, because one of my hero bishops is my predecessor Charles Henry Brent. Bishop of our diocese from 1918 to 1929 and one of the great bishops in the history of the Episcopal Church, he appeared on the cover of TIME magazine and he is now commemorated in our Book of Occasional Services. He also had one of the worst driving records, the most speeding tickets, of any official in the State of New York in the 1920’s. So when I am speeding along the thruway trying to make it to a visitation early on a Sunday morning—I recently made it from Buffalo to Leroy in 35 minutes going about 90, which is probably a felony, I asked Bishop Brent to pray for me. So far it has worked. I have only received one warning in the mail for going 45 miles an hour through the E-Z pass booth off the Batavia exit of the I-90.
And speaking of Sunday mornings, I have experienced what I do think might be a miracle. I was in my car at 8 am on a rainy Sunday three weeks ago, scheduled to be at Christ Church Albion at 9 am. A harsh thump made me realize that I had a flat tire. I thought, “What am I going to do with a flat tire at 8 am in Buffalo on a Sunday morning?” I drove on the flat tire to the nearest gas station, and begged as I walked in the door: “Do you fix flat tires?”
“Nope,” came the answer back from the man in the booth.
As I walked toward the door in despair, a young mother next to the door said, “Why don’t you try this (hold up can). This is a new product called Instant Tire Repair. I will put it in your tire. It is guaranteed to hold it for an hour.”
She put the instant repair into my tire, and I took off down the I-90. Well, it lasted for exactly an hour. My tire was getting flat again as I pulled into Christ Church. Mother Cindy Sever found a parishioner who was able to put on my spare, and once the visitation was over, I was off to my next stop, a book signing at the diocesan center. In retrospect this seems like a miracle to me, because a late or a no-show bishop is no good for anyone.
Sometimes, I’ve found even the infallible GPS wrong. Last Sunday instead of to Good Shepherd, Irving, it led me to the headquarters of the Seneca Nation, and two kind native Americans explained that I was six miles off. I had exactly 15 minutes to get to Good Shepherd before the service started.
So this driving can be wearing. No wonder my enterprising predecessor Bishop Scaife had a driver! But, he could also afford a Cadillac. It would be comical, don’t you think, for me to have a driver at the wheel of my little red Prius? Two Sundays ago, after visiting five parishes in three days, I was backing out of the parking lot of St. Patrick’s in Cheektowaga, and I hit Liz Brauza’s car.
When I apologized later to Liz’s mother, Mother Ellen Brauza, she said, “Oh,Bill, it was nothing, just a bit of your red paint got on Liz’s car. Don’t worry.” Then she added, “But you did notice that tonight we parked as far away from your car as we could, didn’t you?”
So let this be fair warning, in the Diocese of Western New York avoid the Bishop’s car!
Despite these traumas of the road, I feel like I’ve now conquered the I-90, the I-190, and the I-290. I know how to say the Scajaquada. I know the 33 is not the same as the Humboldt Parkway, and I’ve come to love route 20A, route 31, route 39, the 400, route 60, route 62, the Southern Tier Expressway, and even the 390 in the foreign regions of the Rochester Diocese.
Along all of these roads I love the food in the parishes and the wine in the vineyards, and that is why I have to keep up my jogging, and so I am pleased that Matthew Morris, the son of Mother Bonnie Morris, has become the President of the Diocese of Western New York Running Club. He has organized us into a Southern Team, presided over by Father Eric Williams, and the Northern Team, whose clergy members along with me include Father Earle King and Father Ethan Cole. Matthew has created something called the Civil Challenge, in which the South races against the North on the anniversaries of Civil War Battles. The anniversary of the Battle of Antietam is coming up. Are any of you up to the challenge?
This has all been great fun, and running relieves me from the stress of my driving.
Above all I have loved the fun and inspiration of the Youth events I have been able to participate in: the Bishop’s Ball, the Senior High Camp, and above all the Youth Sleepover before my consecration, which we are going to repeat at the Diocesan Center in January. You will not be surprised that the question most asked question of my daughters at the Consecration Sleepover was, “How did you get your Dad to make his music video ‘Stair Dance?’”
My daughter Beatrice explains that her friends who were young arts fellows when we lived at the American Academy in Rome were in a contest to create a work to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the building of the main stair case at the American Academy. They said, “Beatrice, your Dad is the least likely person people know to make a music video, so would he do it?” A daughter’s powers of persuasion are great, and she said to me, “You know you like to have fun, so will you do this for me and my friends, and so I did this, and this video has had thousands of hits on YouTube, and at almost every visitation, I find young people who have watched my video.
It is true, as I think you suspect, that I like to have fun. The diocesan staff will tell you. Though we work hard together, we also have a great deal many good time together.
And that’s my hope for the spirit of the entire diocese during these next eight years: that we, and all of our congregations, the clergy and the laity, will commit to having fun together, as well as to working hard together.
Together, I know we can achieve amazing things by honoring the rich traditions of our Western New York region. On my first phone interview with the Bishop Search Committee I asked the committee, “What gives you hope?”
They all said,”Our love for our region.” I share this same love of our region, as I have come to know it intimately.
And I believe that God shares our place. In the incarnation, God chooses to work through a particular place and a particular person, Jesus Christ, for the sake of the universal. The incarnation is God’s ultimate act of identification with us on our terms, in our region, in our humanity, in our culture and our historical situation. God shares our place. This is part of the Good News. In this loving commitment to us, exactly where we are, God offers us grace—the grace of unconditional love, of forgiveness for our shortcomings, and the grace of healed relationships.
The moment is here.
Together let us seize the day.