Many people have commented to me that being a bishop, especially in Western New York at this time is a big challenge. The truth, I think, is that being a bishop in any place at any time is a big challenge.
I continue to reflect on the example of the Episcopal Church’s inspiring response to 9/11, followed by our response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Our financial resources were dwarfed by these two disasters—we are not as a whole a large, wealthy or powerful community—and yet the people of the Episcopal Church rose to the challenges, giving generously of their money, of their time and of their skills and talents.
I’ve learned the same was true here locally when flood waters overran the villages of Gowanda and Silver Creek in August of 2009.
What I bring away from these examples and others like them, is that it is in our people that the strength and the hope of our Church reside.
In this Easter season I find myself continually surrounded by signs of hope. Chief among these is the vibrant lives of our parishes. This was especially made clear to me during the first two parish visits I made as Bishop of Western New York. I visited St. Paul’s, Harris Hill on the Sunday immediately following my consecration and Calvary, Williamsville this past Sunday. At each of these I found energetic and enthusiastic clergy and lay leaders working closely together to address needs of their congregations, their communities, the diocese, and the wider global village.
I am inspired by the history of St. Paul’s, Harris Hill. The congregation began meeting in the 1940s in the house that is now the rectory. The money to build the church proper was raised by the Sunday School children. And today, some of those children and their descendants continue to reach out to the community around them—hosting AA meetings, Scout troops, and a robust Christian education program. Later this month the church is sponsoring a fair and the funds raised there will be sent along to help those whose lives were torn apart by the earthquake in Japan two months ago.
At Calvary, Williamsville on the day of my visit the church was overflowing with people of all ages. And again the children inspired me. The Sunday School children presented me with a check for $500, money they had raised themselves for the people of Japan. They also pushed a grocery cart brimming with United Thank Offering boxes up the aisle to me. The parish offers regular bible study and Christian education. It is committed to deepening the spiritual lives of its members and to serving their community and this diocese.
On Sunday afternoon, after leaving Calvary, I boarded a plane for Minnesota to attend the funeral of my long-time friend and mentor, Bishop Bob Anderson. I worked closely with Bob to build the Episcopal House of Prayer on the grounds of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, MN. St. John’s is the largest Roman Catholic Benedictine Abbey in the world.
Bishop Anderson was well known for his vision, his courage, and his sense of mission. Above all, he was a man of passionate spirituality, a spirituality grounded God’s unfailing generosity. He was remembered as “an opener of doors.” This is an apt description. Bob was a “big tent” sort of guy, and his tent included everyone. He was among the first to advocate for the ordination of women. He was a strong supporter of native American and black American ministries, and he argued fervently for the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people in the life of the church. He also had a keen interest in new and creative kinds of ministry.
Bob’s funeral reminded me that the ministry a bishop must exercise is, above all, a ministry of love and that all church leaders, both lay and ordained, are called to reflect the love of Christ.
Bob’s funeral gave me a lot to ponder. His life was an example of what can be achieved when we allow God to train us and equip us to go where the hurt is greatest and to stay as long as necessary because God must be there and because we are God’s body here on earth.
I believe that God has put me in Western New York. I intend to do all I can do here to serve the clergy and laity of this diocese, and the people of the wider community, inspired by Bishop Anderson’s heroic and loving life and witness.
Many of you reading this also call Western New York home. I hope you’ll join me in facing the challenges before us with love, energy, passion and enthusiasm.