Fearless Love Diocese: Bishop Katharine’s Convention Address
Good afternoon, fearless love diocese! This diocese may be headquartered in San Diego, yet we include communities from as far north as Lake Elsinore, Menifee, and Hemet, east to Indio, Brawley, and Yuma, and south to the border. In earlier days, this might have been called the southmost diocese in upper California. How we name and describe ourselves matters. Things change when names are claimed, and this diocese continues to walk the Jesus road of transformation, at least in part because so many have claimed to be the Diocese of Fearless Love. Small changes can produce far-ranging results.
Your convention committee made the inspired choice of the mustard seed parable as the theme of this gathering. That parable appears in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and in an older form in the Gospel of Thomas. It answers a question about what life is like under God’s rule, in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus says, ‘this little tiny seed becomes something far larger, a bush to shelter the birds of the air.’ The image evokes comparison with the great cedars of Lebanon or the great tree of life in the book of Daniel. God starts small, but great and life-giving things emerge – and in the parable, they aren’t structures that dominate the landscape or its creatures, they’re a modest, even weedy, presence in the back garden. A bush-like the mustard shelters an entire microcosm of interrelated creatures, and the bush itself is a source of abundant new life.
Fearless Love means living in profound hope that small seeds will grow to feed, shelter, and nurture life around us and among us and within us. And that understanding is being built into the diocesan DNA.
This diocese began in a shipwreck, not far from where the diocesan offices are now. William Ingraham Kip had been sent to be the missionary bishop for all of Alta California. He and his wife plodded across the Isthmus of Panama on mules – and when they were separated, the locals told her he’d been murdered. She fainted and then got back on her balky mule and kept riding west. Some hours later she found him near the coast. The Kips boarded a ship with a thousand others for the trip to San Francisco. The ship broke down off Baja and drifted for days, and the passengers were put on short rations. Eventually, they ran aground on Zuñiga reef off Point Loma. After a stormy night, with waves breaking over the grounded ship (during which the Kips’ 14-year-old son Willie was deemed “fearless”), the morning dawned calm and the passengers were taken off. The Kip family came ashore in San Diego in mid-January 1854, to be entertained by Don Juan Bandini in Old Town. Bishop Kip found an Army chaplain, John Reynolds, who had been serving here for four years, and they held Eucharist at the courthouse on the 22nd.
When Kip finally reached San Francisco, he had two congregations under his charge. By the time his successor arrived in 1890, California had birthed a northern missionary district, grown into 81 congregations, and 19,000 people had been baptized and 11,000 confirmed.
This diocese is part of that rich history, and the mustard bush in southmost Alta California shelters a myriad of people today. Consider the varied and fertile bushes that have sprung from small seeds here since 1854: 43 congregations, and a continued military presence, with many more Episcopal chaplains. The Bishop’s School was founded by Los Angeles Bishop Joseph Horsfall Johnson and Ellen Browning Scripps in 1909, and today serves 800 diverse students from 6th grade through high school. Episcopal Community Services was begun in 1927 by All Saints, San Diego, and today provides over $27 M in health and human services annually. Camp Stevens started as a Depression-era dream, and today shelters hundreds of children and adults in a multiplicity of gardens – forest, agriculture, and savannah. St. Paul’s Senior Services began as a dream in 1960 and today shares more abundant life with 1200 low-income and fragile seniors. RefugeeNet has helped to resettle hundreds of refugees in its 20 years, and is in the process of reimagining how to serve those already here.
These sheltering bushes often spring up almost overnight to become beacons of hope for years on end: Feeding San Diego at St. Bart’s has distributed half a ton of food in its first two weeks; Neighbors 4 Neighbors at St. Margaret’s has been around longer, and its weekly food, clothing, and resource ministry with hundreds of neighbors keeps growing; the several preschools and now Head Start programs lovingly care for hundreds of small children across this part of California; there is a rich and broad response to neighbors at St. Mark’s and at the Episcopal Church Center; as well as ongoing ministries in nearly every congregation, that answer the chirping, hungry creatures in this part of God’s garden.
The bushes themselves seem to have remarkable lifespans – like the building that first housed St. Paul’s in Banker’s Hill, then a vital campus ministry at SDSU, and is now lovingly renewed as St. Philip’s in Lemon Grove. There are even literal gardens, growing food for neighbors at St. Timothy’s and St. Luke’s. Some of these bushes bloom in multi-colored splendor, drawing nurture from soils of different nations and cultures – St. Paul’s, Yuma; St. John’s, Indio; St. Matthew’s, National City; Good Shepherd, Hemet, and many others have been blessed by the abundant diversity of God’s creation visible in this part of the world.
Fearless Love is the will to dream the impossible with fragile frameworks, confident that the wind of the spirit will gather and grow the necessary gifts and resources. It happens in congregations when people set aside their fears of failure or difference and embrace God’s larger vision. How did St. Luke’s become the vibrant and diverse community it is today – except through audacious dreams, and fertilizer from the larger diocesan community? We profess that death can bring new life, and we’re seeing it out in the desert. St. Anthony in the Desert has ceased to exist, yet its last few members are making common cause with a dozen or so Methodists and searching out others who want to gather for worship and service. We don’t know what that bush is going to look like a year from now, but we’re going to keep tending the seeds.
Fearless love prompted the two resolutions that came before last year’s Convention. One asked for review of the Mission Aided Parish canon, and I hope you’ve read their report. When Jim Stiven and I offered a Wardens’ Roundtable last spring, everyone there heard the wardens from St. John’s, Chula Vista, testify to how helpful it had been to have diocesan partnership as they went through a death and resurrection experience with their school. The Task Force that’s looked at the MAP canon has made some very helpful recommendations.
The other resolution asked for review of how we handle clergy misconduct. That Task Force has done a remarkably thorough review and offered recommendations for best practices. The report asks us to adopt their recommendations for trauma-informed care, and for teams to accompany both the person who has suffered the misconduct and the congregation in which it happened. It’s apparent that we can do this work more effectively and provide a greater possibility of healing for all involved.
Both these resolutions have prompted fertile responses to congregations and individuals in distress, and have the potential to provide significantly better care and shelter. This is what Fearless Love looks like in community.
There are other amazing expressions of small seeds growing into sheltering bushes all over this diocese – congregations like St. David’s, learning to have challenging conversations across difference, sometimes with what one person has called “aggressive love.” It’s an image of how Jesus acted toward his opponents – always working to move the conversation deeper, staying engaged without dismissing or denigrating the other person. God knows this is an ongoing challenge for us all, and particularly in the aftermath of this week’s election, I encourage you to consider how you might stay connected with those who voted differently. Much of the lament in this nation – and around the world – is a cry for love, respect, dignity, and being valued as a human being. Small acts of kindness and welcome can result in remarkably deeper and significant relationships. They can provide enough shelter for relationship to bloom.
Those acts of welcome are the foundation of evangelism. Nelle Morton called it “hearing people into speech.” They are the seeds that can lead to fervent and fertile relationship with the good news of God in Christ. When we begin to hear and to share our stories, the body of Christ is growing within us and among us. We have multiple opportunities to practice right here – with Bishop Ricardo and the people of Western Mexico; with people from other congregations; even with people we think we already know very well! Each of us has good news to share, and we have much to receive from those around us.
Tomorrow we’re going to license this diocese’s first Lay Evangelist as an icon of that kind of good news conversation. I expect that William (Bill) Murray will be available to teach and encourage others, and I hope he is the first of many licensed evangelists here. He’ll have an opportunity to share a few words with you tomorrow afternoon, so please engage him!
One last topic – your next bishop. There is lots of energy around the next steps in the election process, and we’re going to review it tomorrow morning. I would invite you to take a look at that mustard seed you’ve been given. Think of all the thought and prayer and hard work that has brought us this far. Seeds have been planted – this diocese’s gifts and history and particular contexts, the missional relationships we have, our identity of Fearless Love, and the invitation for gifted people to discern a vocation with us as bishop. The process has thus far produced one bird in the bush – and others are circling, deciding whether or not to light.
Be of good courage, fear not, God is still at work! If this diocese’s abundance of love and fearlessness had its origins in a shipwreck, we can trust that God’s eternal and open future will bring the gifted leaders we need. Our task is to be faithful, to nurture those seeds into blessings for the world around us, and to dream God’s dream of a world of abundance, as we strive to love our neighbors as God loves us.
Plant the little seeds, water them and pray, and we will discover the dream of life abundant here in our midst. Be Fearless! Be Love!