Sabbatical

One of the benefits given to Episcopal priests and bishops in our letters of agreement is sabbatical time.  We accrue a certain number of weeks of sabbatical leave each year and can take those weeks after between four and seven years of service.  This April marks the beginning of my seventh year as Bishop of Western New York and I will be taking twelve weeks of sabbatical and four weeks of vacation between April 17 and August 17.

Sabbaticals have several purposes.  Basically it is to give concentrated time to think and read and explore some specific area that will enhance and re-energize our ministries.  It is an opportunity to step away and get some perspective and to be freed from the everyday demands that can sometimes be overwhelming.

During my sabbatical I will be focusing on three areas:

I will be responding to some invitations to preach and teach from several Dioceses, religious orders and seminaries.  I am looking forward to be able to deeply engage a wide variety of communities. I am particularly interested in how these different communities are responding to the challenges facing Christian communities in the world today.

I will be visiting a variety of Dioceses and talking with my fellow bishops, their staffs and some diocesan leaders.  I am exploring what these different Dioceses are doing in terms of programming, congregational support, vision and mission.  I am again exploring how these dioceses are responding to the challenges facing particularly Episcopal congregations today.

I will be also be thinking and reflecting and praying about the direction of the Diocese of Western New York during the final period of my episcopacy and the options available to me in setting the stage for the transition at the end of my episcopacy.  I will be reading and consulting and exploring both historical and contemporary models.  I will also be reflecting on the first part of my episcopacy and how that will inform the second part.

I will miss the weekly visits to congregations, which is one of my favorite parts of the ministry of a Bishop.  I will also miss the daily engagement with the committees, commissions and other groups who do much of the work of the Diocese of Western New York.  I will miss working with Diocesan staff and benefiting from their creativity, faithfulness and humor.

I ask that you keep me in your prayers this spring and summer as I will keep you in mine and I look forward to sharing with you what I learn when I return in August.

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We are all immigrants

 

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A Statement on President Trump’s executive order

Our Diocesan Lenten Program in the Diocese of Western New York this year is called “A Space for Grace”.  The program will use Scripture and pieces of modern writing as launching pads for us to talk about our own stories and how those stories are informing our lives in the world today.

I have been thinking and praying all weekend about how to respond to President Trump’s executive order regarding travelers, immigrants and refugees and it seemed to me that using my own story was a place to start.

I am the husband and father-in-law of immigrants.  My wife, Carmela, and her family came to the United States from Italy.  I am blessed every day by the presence of Carmela and I literally cannot imagine my life without her.  Carmela is a scholar and a professor and she has impacted the lives of her students and the institutions that she has served.  The ripples of influence of the different perspective as well as the love of America that Carmela has brought cannot be measured.  That influence is repeated by the life and work of every immigrant to our country.  I see the same impact from the presence of my son-in-law, Dr. Rey Ramirez, whose father is from a family of Mexican immigrants.  In my own family, I see the great benefits to this country of the presence of immigrants.

I grew up in the segregated South.  I have seen the horrible impact of laws and practices based on fear and discrimination.  It is not only those who are discriminated against who suffer.  The whole society is warped and lives of everyone in the society are limited and maimed when we act out of fear, especially when we act out of fear of those who are different from us.  The ripples of the negative effects of laws and practices that separate us from each other are as far reaching as the ripples of positive effects from immigrants in our society.

I am an historian.  I have spent my life studying the past.  I speak with knowledge and authority when I say that there is no time in the history of this country or any other, when excluding people based on race or religion or clan has been of benefit to the society that is excluding others.  From the ancient Israelites through Europe in the Middle Ages to the multiple times in the history of the United States when we have excluded people based on race or religion or ethnic origin, it has always been detrimental.  It comes back to the fact that acting out of fear is always the wrong choice.  History teaches us this over and over and over again.

I am a proud citizen of Buffalo.  Buffalo is a city formed by immigrants.  From the Irish, Germans, Italian and Polish of the late 19th and early 20th century to the people from Syria, Burma, various nations of Africa, China, India and Japan today, immigrants have added to the economy and community and culture of Buffalo.  The immigrants have made us what we are.  It is hard to remember sometimes, but often immigrants have not been initially welcomed.  The Irish were not welcomed, the Polish were not welcomed, the Germans were seen as enemy aliens and the Italian immigrants were accused of bringing a foreign religion and way of life.  Today, we take great pride in being a city of immigrants and have festivals and restaurants and celebrations of the gifts they have brought.  The same cycle is repeating with our newer immigrants.  I am certain that in the, hopefully near, future, the Syrian and Burmese and Indian festivals will be every bit as much of the culture of Buffalo as the Italian festival, St. Patrick’s Day and Dyngus Day.

I am the Bishop of deacons and congregations involved in refugee resettlement.  I have learned the difference between refugees and immigrants.  There are no people who come to this country who are more thoroughly vetted then refugees.  Refugees are fleeing the very people that we name as our enemies.  In the last 40 years the number of American citizens killed by refugees in the entire United States can be counted on the fingers of one hand.  We are in no danger from the people who seek refuge from war and persecution in our country.  This is what American was founded for – to be a place of refuge for all.  That is what makes us a light to the world.  Turning away refugees who have already been screened are have spent years proving themselves to a variety of government agencies is a betrayal of the founding principles of the United States of America.  The draconian limits to the number of refugees in President Trump’s executive order is a betrayal of the spirit of America and the vision of our founders.

Most importantly, I am a follower of the God of Jesus Christ.  It is not possible to read the Old Testament without hearing over and over and over again the call of God to his people to care for those in need, and particular to immigrants and foreigners.  To give just one of hundreds of examples, as the people of Israel were preparing to enter the land that God had promised to them, God gave them instructions for the setting up of the society in the land that they were about to enter. God said this, “So circumcise your hearts and stop being so stubborn, because the Lord your God is the God of all gods and Lord of all lords, the great, mighty and awesome God who doesn’t play favorites and doesn’t take bribes.  He enacts justice for orphans and widows, and he loves immigrants, giving them food and clothing.  This means that you must also love immigrants because you were immigrants in Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:16-19 CEB, emphasis added).  We are all immigrants, we, as the American people, are all immigrants every bit as much as the people of Israel were and God’s command does not change.  As Christians, as followers of Jesus Christ, we must love immigrants.  As Episcopalians we promise over and over again to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.  This is one small part of that vow.

I call on the Diocese of Western New York to join with me in standing against President Trump’s executive order, both as it applies to limiting immigrants from seven nations and as it applies to stopping all refugees for 120 days and limiting the total number of refugees.

Contact your elected officials.  The White House is not taking phone calls, but you can send letters directly to the President at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, Washington DC, 20500.  Call your congressional representatives and tell them that you oppose this action and ask them to do anything in their power to oppose it.  Brian Higgins represents the 26th Congressional district.  His office can be reached at 716-852-3501 or 716-282-1274.  Chris Collins represents the 27th Congressional district.  His office can be reached at 716-634-2324 or 585-519-4002.

Support the work of the ACLU who are holding our government accountable to our Constitution, laws and the vision of our founders.  You can donate through their website at http://www.aclu.org

Commit to supporting the resettlement of refugees.  There are several organizations in Buffalo the help refugees resettle and become a part of our community.  Donate, volunteer, help in any way that you can.  Journeys End is one that Episcopal congregations have worked with.  Their web-site is http://www.jersbuffalo.org.  Contact Archdeacon Tom Tripp at tomtripp2007@gmail.com to ask advice on a program at your congregation on refugee resettlement.

Above all pray.  Pray for those who have been turned away from our country.  Pray for those who are being detained.  Pray for those who will face further persecution or even death because of this action.  And pray for President Trump and his advisers, that God will turn their hearts.

The Rt. Rev. R. William Franklin

Bishop of Western New York

January 30, 2017

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Where is our stable? Where is our manger?

Sermon from Christmas Eve at St. Paul’s Cathedral, Buffalo

In the name of our loving God who on this holy night bring us to the miracle of Christ’s birth.  Amen.

Merry Christmas!

Every Christmas Eve when I come to the Cathedral for this service I am amazed at the beauty of this place.  Thank you to all who have worked hart do make this possible – the flowers, the tree, the candles, the music the welcome and hospitality.

Whether you come here every Sunday, or come here once a year, tonight this is everyone’s spiritual home.

And it is nice to come home for Christmas.

When I was a child, growing up in Mississippi, I knew that there would always be a tangerine in the toe of my Christmas stocking.

This year I think we’re all hoping that someone will find a way to fill the hole in our hearts of a rough year, 2016.  Our nation is about equally divided over whether to rejoice at the election results of 2016 or to regret them.  So is our Episcopal Diocese equally divided.

Those who are unhappy about the election results ton’s want to hear the Christmas carol reminding them that, “’tis the season to be jolly.” They’re more in tune with Elvis Presley, who sang: “You’ll be doin’ all right with your Christmas of white, but I’ll have a blue, blue Christmas.”

Many people can barely manage a fa or a la, let alone a full fa-la-la-la-la.

Some Americans are experiencing a collective trauma as we realize that our nation is more divided than most of us knew or were willing to admit.  Some people feel that their most deeply held beliefs about what America stands for have been rejected.

Others are delighted with the results of the election. They’re saying, “It’s about time,” and for them this IS a season to be jolly, as hope is renewed.  They cast a vote for change, for relief, for the restoration of a world they had lost.

They have their own trauma to deal with – one they have been suffering far longer.  I am speaking of people who, over the last decade or so, saw their jobs and their savings and their futures and their dignity disappear.  No one was listening as Buffalo was hollowed out, when manufacturing jobs went away.  It is a story we’ve lived out right here all over Western New York.  Those are voice we are called to listen to now.

In the City of Buffalo we point to our economic recovery and creation of lots of new jobs, but that recovery, those good times, have yet to spread to the small industrial towns around us.  We know that an island of prosperity in Buffalo surrounded by a sea of despair is not a description of a healthy region.

So one way or another we are all a nation traumatized, a nation for whom the America dream has been diminished.  A week from tonight we may all be crossing our fingers when we tell each other, “Happy New Year,” desperately hoping that it might be so.

All of us are looking for a place of comfort, security and safety.  We’re like the Holy Family; Jesus, Mary and Joseph, as they made their way to Bethlehem, looking for a place to stay in a dark and uncertain time of Roman occupation.  For them it was a stable and a manger – a place of protection, a place where new life could be born.

Where is our stable tonight?  Where is our manger?

For us as Christians, it lies in our commitment that the values of our Christian faith override political concerns and we will continue to care for God’s people regardless of who is in the White House.  We will stand with immigrants and refugees, with LGBT youth, with those who fear that their health insurance or their right to marry the person they love will be taken away.

Where is our stable? Where is our manger?  It is in the Garden of Love outside, just outside this Cathedral wall, where warm coats and gloves are available to anyone who needs them, and where the Homeless Jesus statue there reminds us that what we do to others, we do to him.  And it is the work of every congregation in this diocese that offers food and clothing and shelter and support and hope, not just one night a year but every day.  Where others are at each other’s throats, we are touching each other’s hearts.

So, where is our stable? Where is our manger?  It needs to be among desperate refugees who are seeking stability, but who are often reviled and threatened.  The refugees we read about on the front page of the newspaper every day bear a strong resemblance to the Holy Family in the crèche just over there.  Like them, the infant Jesus and his parents were homeless Middle Eastern asylum seekers who fled death threats in a nation occupied by a hated, murderous invading force.

So where is our stable? Where is our manger? It is in the future of this Cathedral, where a search process is already under way for the position of a permanent dean.  It will be a high point of my time as your bishop to install as permanent dean, one who will welcome everyone, as we welcome everyone tonight – who will make this Cathedral a crossroads of the city for worship and the arts and for important conversations about our region’s future with voices from all sides – and a place of sanctuary and hope for everyone.

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With some acolytes at Feast of Lights at the Cathedral

Where is our stable? Where is our manger?  It is in making not a bigger church but a better world as our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, describes it – a son of this diocese who was ordained right over there – our mandate is to create a world “saturated in love.” Where there is always room at the inn or around the table, where the lost and the lonely find a welcome, where those whose lives are rich and full of stuff but empty, at the core, find what they are looking for.

Ken Burns, the great documentary filmmaker, commented recently that “those people who did not vote as we did are not our enemy.” All of us who are traumatized – left and right, red and blue – need to engage with one another, he said, “offering shared stories and real solution rather than narratives that are calculated to divide, offering fellowship and unity where fake news has helped stoke tribal angers.”

We engage each other when we speak to and about each other with language of respect and dignity – and when we refuse to tolerate insulting language and racist epithets.  These are not jokes.  There is nothing to laugh at.  Language can hurt and language can heal and we will speak up when anyone – particularly those in positions of leadership – uses vile language to attack and demean others, who are, after all, created in the image of God.

We will heal that hole in our hearts when we become Believers without Borders, proving that our faith can succeed where all else fails to transform this world from a nightmare of such insults, a broken American dream, into the dream of God for justice, for dignity and peace for all.

Henry Lebedinsky has written a new Christmas carol for the end of 2016 and it ends with these words:

“Now, as we wait yet again for his coming, may we remember that, when first he came, we were afraid; we cried out “Crucify him!” Thus those in power used our fear for their gain.

When we are anxious and hope seems audacious, anger and hatred clang loud in our ears, over the tumult, a still, small voice, is still ringing, challenging, strengthening, casting out our fear.

Come let us work for a new world of justice.  Let us build bridges.  So through our lives, we may echo the angels; ‘Glory to God, peace and goodwill to all.’”

This is good news for all tonight.  And that good news is God is in charge.  Love will ultimately triumph.  In the name of that loving God.  Amen.

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