My Convention address was too long to be a blog post. I think that this hits the highlights.
The Growing Web of Grace
When I first arrived in Western New York, I started talking about my vision for our Diocese as the Web of Grace. We joked together about how appropriate it was to talk about webs at a Convention that happens near Halloween and perhaps how inappropriate it was to cast the Bishop in the role of spider in the web.
In spite, or perhaps because of the jokes, the concept of the Web of Grace – of a Diocese made up of the ties of love and help and relationship between and among us all – has become part of our common language.
We started building the Web of Grace with clergy events as soon as I arrived in the Diocese five years ago, that provided opportunities for the clergy to get to know me, for me to get to know them and for all of us to share and build relationships with each other. I made it my first priority as Bishop to get to all of the congregations and to get to know you. I visited all of your churches, I heard your stories. The vestry and wardens gathered for dinners to talk about how we funded our common life. These were the beginnings of the Web of Grace.
Since then the Web of Grace has grown. It has spread and it has grown stronger.
It is clear to me that there are four components of the Web of Grace and that they are all important. The work of the diocese is found in the building and strengthening all of the parts of the Web of Grace.
The Web of Grace connects us to each other. This is the first component. It connects our congregations one to another. It connects our clergy one to another. It connects our ministries one to another.
The Web of Grace connects us to our communities. This is the second component. The Web of Grace connects our congregations and each person to the communities in which we live and move and work and worship.
The Web of Grace connects us to the wider Episcopal Church. This is the third component. The Web of Grace connects our congregations and us to other Dioceses and to the Episcopal Church.
The Web of Grace connects us to the world. This is the fourth component.
As you can see the Web of Grace is complex and as it grows it becomes more and more complex.
In order to both expand the Web of Grace and stay connected to each congregation, it is clear to me that at the Diocesan level, we need to develop staff, programs and organizations and tools designed for the purpose of building connections between and among us and helping expand the Web of Grace.
As we work to strengthen and expand the Web of Grace, I believe that the congregations need one point of contact to access all of the resources that the Diocese has available and one place to ask questions and get answers. I also believe that we need someone who can help connect the resources of one congregation with the needs and interests of another.
I am creating the position of Canon for Connections. This will be a full-time position and will be the single point of contact for all congregations, not just congregations experiencing trouble and distress, to access all of the resources of the Diocese, for every possible need that a parish may have. I have asked the Rev. Cathy Dempesy-Sims to take on this role and she has agreed. Cathy’s job will be to get to know you and your congregations. To visit with you on Sunday mornings and to know your strengths and your needs and to talk with you about all the programs and resources that the diocese has to support every age group in your parish, in good times and bad. She will be the person you call if your congregation needs or wants resources or help and she will connect you with the appropriate Diocesan resource or staff person, or help you find resources from the Episcopal Church or other sources.
In addition to this full-time position I am creating five part-time positions to help with the work of the Diocese.
The Bishop’s Assistant for Ministry Development will work with me in organizing the work of the Commission on Ministry, the Board of Examining Chaplains, the deacon formation program, the clergy collegiality team and the ministry in transition group, all these particularly as we continue our pioneering work of joint efforts with the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania and to meet the needs of the newly ordained clergy.
The Bishop’s Assistant for Public Relations will work with me in organizing and managing my activities in Buffalo and the wider region, particularly with the Roman Catholic bishop and other religious leaders, with the Mayor of Buffalo and other political leaders in Western New York and our area foundations, all of whom are calling on my help at this time of renewal and growth, and in managing the public relations for the Diocese.
I am asking Vicki Zust to fill both of these positions for the time being. This is only a slight realignment of the work that she has been doing as Bishop’s Assistant for Special Projects.
The Web-Site and Social Media manager will be responsible for the Diocesan web-site, our Diocesan Facebook and Twitter presences, Postings & all other targeted e-mails and other social media venues.
Liz Brauza has been our web-site manager since Laurie Wozniak’s retirement and I am asking her to take on this expanded role.
These are all people who are already a part of the Web of Grace and who are already doing some of this work. All three of them will be able to begin their new positions January 1 and hit the ground running.
I will be appointing a search committee to fill the other two part-time positions:
First 30 Resource Manager and First 30 Events Manager.
The First 30 Resource Manager will be responsible for keeping up to date with resources available for Church School Teachers, Youth Group Leaders, Parents, and Parish Clergy. He or She will maintain an electronic resource list and be available to help congregations with their needs in the area of First 30 ministries.
The First 30 Events Manager will be responsible for putting together teams of people to plan and lead the Feast of Lights acolyte service, Diocesan Family Camp, Episcopal Day at Darien Lake, junior high and senior high events, an event for college students and a Confirmation enrichment event each year, and other events planned by the First Thirty Committee.
I will be naming the search committee for these two positions in the next few weeks.
In addition to staffing, we need programs that support our connections with each other, our connections with the community and our connections with the wider church and the world.
I am gathering the junior and senior high youth of the Diocese at the Diocesan Ministry Center on Saturday January 23 for a youth convocation. I want to have an opportunity for our youth to dream about ways that we can take our church into their community and the world in which they live.
I am inviting all acolytes of the Diocese to take part in the Feast of Lights at St. Paul’s Cathedral on Sunday January 31 at 4 pm we will tell the story of the spread of the light of Christ into the world.
The Absalom Jones celebration will take place at St. Philip’s Church on Sunday February 14.
I am asking the Be Not Afraid committee to gather again and to plan a gathering that will respond to the needs that were expressed in the first two rounds of Conversations earlier in 2015.
There will be an Evensong at St. Paul’s Cathedral on Epiphany, January 6 at 6:00 pm at this service I will be honoring a few people for long service to the Diocese by naming them honorary canons. This is another opportunity for us to gather and to join in worship on an important day in the Church year and the life of the Diocese. Please put the date on your calendar and plan on joining us.
May 20 and 21 we will be the host for a regional forum on church partnerships with public schools. This forum is sponsored by the All Our Children network and will gather Episcopalians interested in supporting public education and working for equality in public education from many Episcopal dioceses.
We will also work on the real tools that help us to connect with one another and strengthen the Web of Grace, that respond to the new realities of church life, and allow us to move beyond old structures of the past that stand in our way.
We will roll out the new Diocesan Web-site early in 2016, that actually will be usable on mobile devices and will work on making it a hub of information about our congregations and our ministries easily accessible at the touch of a button to everyone, wherever you might be.
Our Diocesan Facebook has become a major part of the Web of Grace. We will continue to develop the latest, revolutionary new ways that we can use Facebook and other social media to help us connect with one another and to support each other.
That is what the Web of Grace is all about. It is in these connections to each other, to our communities, to the church and to the world that we find the presence of Christ, it is in these connections that we find what Christ is calling us to do. We all have a part in the web these connections make. This is not just the work of the clergy, of just the large congregations in the metropolitan region. We are all web-builders. It is what we promised to do when we answer, “I will with God’s help.”
I put it to you all, as I conclude this, my fifth convention address to you, the beloved people of the diocese of western New York , I ask Will you continue to seek and serve Christ in the growing Web of Grace?