I was very grateful for Anne Neville’s article, The Blogging Bishop, which appeared in The Buffalo News in January. It attracted a lot of attention. There have now been well over 5,000 hits on the YouTube music video Stair Dance. I am approaching 1,000 friends on Facebook.
At the same time, just as The Buffalo News article appeared, my blog went silent, and I want to give you an explanation for this and outline my hopes for the blog over the next weeks. First my mother Dorothy, who is 91, had a serious operation in late January. I, of course, went to be with her in Mississippi. This interrupted my schedule, but it gave me the first hand experience of how faith is the source of courageous hope in the face of a daunting surgery. I am happy to report that my mother has recovered well from the operation and is now back home.
Secondly, these past weeks have been devoted to meetings with many groups in our diocese as we think together about the purpose of the diocese, the resources the diocese can provide for our parishes, and the creation of effective structures to better serve the parishes of our diocese. As a diocese, we have engaged in two months of collective listening at deanery/vestry dinners in each one of our eight deaneries, at an evening for our parishes to bring their concerns to our Diocesan Council, at retreats for our deacons, our Diocesan Council and with our youth, and at sessions of eight advisory committees on structures: education, 20/30 ministry, deacons, worship and liturgy, ecumenical relations, historic buildings, endowments, and healing.
All of these listening sessions confirm that we wish to be a big tent Church and a big tent diocese of liberals and conservatives and moderates, of young and old, of lay and ordained leaders, and of big city, suburban, and small town parishes. Part of the job of your bishop, I believe, is to weave all of these voices into a unified whole. As your bishop, I should serve as a sign of unity, one who brings all of the rich diversity of our diocese into one coherent vision.
I believe this blog gives me the opportunity to share with you this coherent vision, and the way it is unfolding. As I have related before, I believe this emerging vision of the Diocese of Western New York is made up of four parts:
- The bishop should be present as often as possible with the parishes.
- The goal of this episcopate is to focus on the growth of the parishes: spiritual growth as well as numerical growth.
- The diocese is living into its identity as a “Web of Grace,” that we are one regional community made up of sixty congregations and other institutions, and that all move forward together.
- We embrace parallel development: while remaining loyal to our traditional Episcopal ways, we are trying out new worship times, new styles of worship and music, new forms of Christian formation which more readily welcome the unchurched into our midst.
Many experiences that I have had since I wrote my last blog remind me of how crucial hope is as the ultimate outcome of this mission of our diocese. I witnessed first hand the healing hope of my mother as she has faced and recovered from her serious operation. I have heard the people of our diocese say that the fundamental mission of our diocese should be to bring hope to the people of Western New York as they, like many citizens of our country are battered by economic uncertainly and anxiety, population decline, political division and a dearth of leadership.
The gospel readings of each of the Sundays of the Epiphany season now coming to an end, have been about Christian hope. On most of Sundays during these past weeks, we see Jesus not only has been talking, but Jesus has been acting to change people. His message goes something like this: God has a plan for you. God has created you for a purpose. You face demons which can deter you from God’s plan. But God comes to you with God’s grace in holy communion, in the scriptures, and in the life of God’s community, the Church. This grace is spiritual energy which gives us that little push to get us back on track. Grace changes us, and because we can change, we have hope.
From the perspective of all of these Epiphany gospels, we can say that our parishes are outposts of this grace, that they are in fact a real “web of grace,” where daily and weekly people encounter grace and experience change. And, because change is possible, there is hope.
During these weeks a friend gave me a prayer that lays out some concrete specifics of what Christian hope is all about, of what happens when we gather at the Lord’s Table, around the Lord’s Word, with the Lord’s people:
Grant, O Lord, that because we have met together here today:
Life may grow greater for some who have lost faith in it;
Happier for some who may be tasting the bitterness of it;
Safer for some who are feeling the peril of it;
More friendly for some who are feeling the loneliness of it;
And holier for some for whom life may have lost its dignity, its beauty, and its meaning.