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The Bishop’s Address: The Sending Church

Listen to the Bishop’s Address or read the transcript below.

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
La gracia y paz de Dios nuestro Padre y Señor Jesucristo a todos ustedes.

On All Souls’ night, tens of thousands of people gathered in Cleveland; millions watched on television, or on their computers. Others listened intently on the radio around the planet. At that moment, our nation was deeply divided. Some were rooting for the Cubs. Others were rooting for the Indians. Passions were over-the-top high. The stakes felt astronomical. Don’t let anyone tell you baseball doesn’t matter. In the end, the Cubs prevailed.  [Cheers and applause.]

What is remarkable is the grace given by winning and losing fans. While they differed in their allegiance, everyone saluted the play, the sportsmanship, the outcome. And at the end, everyone said, “What a great game!” I love baseball. On Tuesday night, this past Tuesday, no such equivalent sentiments were offered. As I said earlier, our divisions were shown to be deep and painful. Nobody said at that point, “I love the game of politics.”

Try as we might, this convention, and the coming year of our shared ministry, will occur against the backdrop of that political campaign, its ugliness and the emotions that it engendered and brought to the surface. But somehow, because of my Chicago connections, I can’t separate this from my baseball life. I have to just kinda bring the spirit of Martin Luther and harakiri to this moment. I have to simply say this: “I am a Cubs fan.” And as I said when I was being vetted in the Episcopal walkabout 12 years ago, “I am thus man of faith.”  [Bishop Mathes puts on a Cubs ballcap.]

Now I’m not gonna keep this on for the whole address, and it isn’t gonna replace the miter tomorrow, tempting as it might be. I thought about putting a Cubs medallion on a miter and see how that looks. What was that? [asking the audience]. That’s right. Call and response is okay even in an Episcopal address. But seriously, I am a man of faith. I have faith in God. I have faith in you, and we are a people of faith. That’s our identity. And we believe in Jesus. As his followers, we come together to discern God’s will for us as people of faith in this day and in this place. Because you see, this is our time; this is our mission field — this thing that we call the Diocese of San Diego. God has placed us here.

And we bring our faith into the real world filled not just with political tensions, while they are there to be sure, but powerful emotions rooted in real concerns. Many of us are fearful, and anxious, and indeed, angry at times. 9-11 (seems a long way away but it’s here as if it were yesterday) ISIS, the Great Recession, global warming, mass shootings that we hear occurring, police shootings, police as victims—that all feeds our fears. All are real. We see them; we feel them; we can all but taste them. We’re overwhelmed by images and information, all but unable to assimilate and reasonably process what we see and what we hear. We’re all plugged in and connected by multiple devices, but not necessarily with each other. The data phone has become the symbol of our age. It is, to be sure, a great tool, but it’s also a symptom of our disease—fear and anxiety, propelled by information overload, leading actually not to connection, but disconnection.

The other reality is that as we gather as a church, we know that we have fewer members and seemingly fewer resources. I represent this remark but we’re all growing grayer and older. As clergy, those of us who are clergy, we were taught in our education to manage and lead an established church. As lay leaders, you have been fed by that model of church. Our symbol and sign of that church continues to be, “The Episcopal Church welcomes you.” Come, come to us. Our doors are open. The reality is that the people aren’t coming.

We spend our energies trying to get better at being that church, the church we know. And what that fundamentally looks like is trying to get more people to come into church and give more—and so we do a new greeter program, a novel approach to stewardship. We monkey with the liturgy, and of course the great curer of all our ills—more contemporary music. Our metrics, how we measure our being successful, are higher Sunday attendance and more dollars in the budget. Because that’s not what’s been happening, we find ourselves looking, and I’ll just be confessional, myself looking in the mirror and feeling like I’ve failed. Our clergy thinking they are not doing enough. And our lay leaders feeling like they’ve let the church down. That is one of the false assumptions and one of the things that is just not true. It’s not our fault. It is a disconnect between the church we have come to know and to love that sustained and formed us, but it’s not quite the right church for the world we inhabit today.

As bishop, my calling as your chief pastor is to act as the spiritual director of the community. I’m supposed to gently guide this community, as God’s given me the ability, in holy living so that we’ll be a part of God’s work of reconciliation and restoration. And the real deal is—every bishop, self included, holds that call in community, with community.

I’ve prayed about this. I’ve studied, listened, and observed. And it goes something like this: from time to time, the church is called to make profound changes because the mission field, that world out there, is calling us to do so. Calling us to be significantly altered. Once upon a time geopolitical change, discovery in a new world, and innovations such as the printing press, brought forth this thing we call the Great Reformation. And on this continent, an American Revolution brought forth a very new thing out of what was ancient and traditional. You might have heard about it. It’s called the Episcopal Church. See, we’ve been here before.  We’ve been called as the people of God to profoundly and significantly change. We know that history does repeat itself. We have in our DNA the adaptive and creative gene to reimagine ourselves in this church.  

It is my sense that the path begins with us returning to the fundamentals. And here I have to return slightly to baseball. Like any baseball team, focusing on hitting and pitching, and fielding to get better, we too must focus on the core things. At the beginning, at the very beginning of the Jesus movement, Jesus called his followers to be adaptive and creative. I am sure you remember the moment:

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into the harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road” (Luke 9: 2-4).

Jesus begins with a terse assessment of the mission field: lots of opportunity; too few laborers. And then he offers steely-eyed reality: you’re going out like lambs in the midst of wolves. Match your resources to the work: carry no purse, no bag, no sandals. Be focused. Greet no one on the road. I’ll say it again.

We are people of faith. We’re being sent. We bear the good news that God loves the world, that God’s love in us can do more than we can ask for or imagine. We share in, and show forth, the transformative new life found in God’s love of us and our love of God and neighbor. That is a message that can change us. That is a message that can change a broken and sin-sick world.

At the Eucharistic table tomorrow, once again lean into that reality that we are sent again into the world to share that reality. That our message is this: the world can be changed by the love of God. You don’t need to be afraid. God is here. Don’t worry. Don’t be angry. God will provide. Love is stronger than hate. The cross is the eternal symbol of that truth. Love heals and brings joy—even though it happens sometimes through pain and even death. This is the message of salvation. And you better believe, whether it’s an election year or not, Jesus approves this message.

We got that healing word that, brothers and sisters. We are the laborers. Like those who are a hitter in a slump, it might just be time to check out our swing—to return to the fundamentals. And when a batter does that work, it feels odd and counterproductive at first. And I know there are a few golfers out here. The golf swing is the same thing. It feels like it’s a different body you are inhabiting. And when that happens, the batting averages initially fall. Our change in the church is to be that kind of change. It is one that is a disorienting reorientation. To be this church, the church of this mission field, we need to be in this time and place, that changing in community. We need to move from being that receiving church to something else. That’s has been our swing…you see, “the Episcopal Church welcomes you, come.” Our profound adjustment is to go back to the fundamental, to the beginning, to be the apostolic church, which means to be the sending church. We give up our old stance; we let go of it and we risk a new way of being and doing.  To be that kind of church it’s going to start with me and you. It’s going to start with your bishop, your clergy, all of us, learning new skills. And then we will need to call new leaders with new gifts.  

Leadership training and the School for Ministry are so important for that task. The laborers are few. And intertwined with this is how we allocate our resources. Over the past few years, as those of you who are old timers at convention will remember no doubt, we have been slowly but surely shifting investments in our diocesan budget to focus on leadership development, on teaching and on consultation work with in the community. Staff time is more and more devoted in the field.

Charlette Preslar, who led our youth in the worship and is with them now, is one example of someone with that devotion of time and energy: a person devoted to facilitating youth leadership development and connectivity throughout our diocese. Now, every congregation can be supported in the nurturing youth, not just the most resourced. Another example: our newly appointed archdeacon, Bob Nelson, is similarly building up the ministry of deacons, how we are at the cutting edge of ministry of being the sending church, whether we are sending ourselves into prisons, or into homeless communities, wherever we’re called to go. Bob and the deacons are doing that work and I love the way Bob puts it: that “the deacon’s job is to get your butts out of the pews and into the world in ministry.”

And so the real question is—can we move these from these incremental beginning steps that we have been working on to significant reimagining? Can we? To do this, we’re gonna have to leave behind one way, and take another. It’s gonna be painful at times, and filled with uncertainty, and I would even say—grief.  

What it looks like in today’s Episcopal Church is deciding to give up things so that we can do other things. And we stepped down that path in a significant way this past year when we sold St. Anne’s in Oceanside—hard, painful, a time of grief. But because of that decision, we’re able to reallocate resources in ministry in new ways. As you have probably already read in your packet, our finance committee and subsequently executive council discerned what I would describe as  a win-win action after doing that sale. With $2.6 million in sales in hand, we were able to essentially eliminate our external debt with that sale, and pay off bank loans for St. Thomas, Temecula and St. Timothy’s, Rancho Peñasquitos. And here’s where the win-win part comes. Both congregations will now make loan payments at a lower rate to the diocese creating a flow of mission funds of around $190,000.

And another way what this looks like is a small community of St. Anthony’s in Desert Hot Springs imagining a remarkably different future by giving up their costly and remote building. Their hope, their dream right now, is to create in that center of that desert community an innovative coffee house ministry. A place of worship, connection, conversations about things that deeply matter under the shadow of the cross.

At this time last year, we also did imagine what is becoming a reality in North Park. A new ministry built on the foundation of St. Luke’s. With new leadership of Colin and Laurel Mathewson, standing in the place where others have stood before them, building on what they have done. We have been blessed with an infusion of funds from a group of outside donors, and we are shaking things up and imaging a new way of doing urban ministry, and and also planting new cell churches in that changing neighborhood. That’s what happens when you ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into the harvest!

And other major initiative is to continue to build up our Hispanic ministry. It’s not rocket science to say in Southern California this should be central to our life. In doing this, what we have set out to do is to build on what is already here, to build up the ministry that has already begun.

You heard just a few minutes go about our upcoming resolution to consider a companion relationship with the Diocese of Western Mexico. And in September, Cristina Borges, and Rom Ituarte and I went down to that diocese and had what for me was almost a life-changing experience. We knew already our friends on the north end of the diocese, Father Casillas and Father Candelario. But we went deeper into the diocese, came to know and to fall in love with more people. We learned of their new mission planting, especially in the indigenous community of La Nuova Palma, a community of people who have for really centuries been marginalized, and there, that diocese has planted a new church amongst those people, helping them to receive not only spiritual bread, but indeed their daily bread. Our brothers and sisters in the Diocese of Western Mexico can be a key part of us becoming a more vibrant, Hispanic diocese. They can teach us how to do house church building, how to do multicultural ministry, how to partner not only with them but with others in our community, how to be the sending church.

Our hope this year was to also bring on an Hispanic missioner. That was something that last year’s convention placed in our budget, and put before us. It has been harder to find the right person to fill that role than we anticipated. We have tried hard. A committee has worked hard; we have interviewed people. We have just not found the right match. To use the wisdom of Jesus, we’re going to take a different shot at this. We’re going to cast our nets on the other side of the boat. It’s worth noting that we already have already had a vibrant multicultural, multilingual church in our church and in our diocese. It’s called Cursillo. It’s already building leaders and connections across cultures and languages. It’s right here now. And that’s  a foundation for us that we can easily miss. So in moving forward I’m wondering about looking at some of the leaders that are already in place in our diocese, utilizing a laborer already in the mission field in Latino ministry to serve, at least for a season, as a key leader in an interim period. Perhaps there’s somebody in the community right now hearing me say this, thinking, “Hmmm…I’m think I’m gonna have the conversation with Jim Mathes at dinner tonight.” [Laughter.]

The spirit is over there someplace, but yeah. We’re very close to the San Andreas fault by the way. Maybe that was in some way related, which is a shout out for [the] disaster preparedness resolution. But seriously folks, in this area good growth is happening. I think we’re making some progress. It doesn’t necessarily look like we think it will look at any given moment but we need to keep at that.

In reality, thought, all of these things we have done so far are incremental and are really quite modest changes. Any change in the diocesan budget, which you will hear about in just a few minutes,  are going to be are modest and incremental.  You will see in your budget numbers that we are funding through reserves approximately $250,000 to do what we are calling “shift work.” I’m not 100% sure that is the best label to give it, but it works this way. Shifting our mission, shifting from being the church that is the receiving church to being the sending church. What it will do is it will staff up, for a short-term period of time, the work to provide all of us resources to realign ourselves, to move into a different way of being church.  To work with you, intensively in certain places, to do that work. Our ability to do that work in North Park is made possible because of the shift work we have already done. That is the kind of work that this part of our budget will help us to continue to do.

In a recent finance committee meeting, we grappled with the question of how do we effectively measure our work. I was asked about that and I honestly did not have a firm answer.  And I think it is mainly for this reason: the needed change and how we measure it will be actually found amongst you. It will be through the work and ministry of all of our congregations. Our call, and this budget, is to provide the support that’s needed to make that happen. Our diocesan budget, and the funds we’re allocating now we need to bear in mind is only a fraction of the expenses and the income of the diocese as a whole; the vast wealth of the diocese is received and expended through your budgets. If we are going to change into a different kind of church, our priorities and how and where we spend money in your budgets is going to have to change. That’s where transformation will come about, is how we adapt at the congregational level.

I hasten to add that in all of this we are building on profound strengths and gifts. You are an amazing collection of saints in this diocese. Over the last 12 years I have really come to see that, and have been astonished by your gifts, your perseverance, your resilience. We do have a variety of gifts, but the same spirit. God is working through us. I see that on my visitations with you. I come away thankful. I see amazing things from amazing people. There is grace and goodness, and veritable bright spots. I saw a few weeks ago an invigorated Hispanic service in Yuma. I saw it in Fallbrook—English as a Second Language program that is connecting with a community college to touch people’s lives.

We see it today at this convention in the collaborative youth work that’s going on. We see it more specifically in Escondido and San Marcos where those two congregations are working together around youth, and speaking of youth, we see it when the youth of St. Andrew’s, Encinitas, are undaunted even when the building that they use for their ministry, burns. There are bright spots out there. There is good news. There are great things happening. And that’s what we are building upon—these bright spots. They are the light of Christ in our diocese. Some of you might just want to break out and sing, “This little light of mine . . . I’m goin’ let it shine!” See we can do this. We can adapt. We can change.

The key to this moment and momentum, at least at the beginning, will come through being more connectivity, and more and more working together. Again, look at what Jesus did when he sent his disciples out. He didn’t send them out alone. He sent them out as companions, not as lone rangers. Right now we have 44 congregations. Most have their designated clergy person full or part time. We have 44 governing bodies, vestries or bishop’s committees. We have 44 accounting functions and bank accounts—etc. etc. etc. What if we stopped doing it that way? What if we began to work in a deep way with each other and eliminated these redundancies? What if we freed up our most precious resource—you! Our human capital, so that we could do more in the world, more of God’s mission in the world?

There would be significant financial gain to be sure. Financial resources that could be used for other things. Creativity and innovation would spring lose in that moment. I, for one, find that exciting.

What is to keep is from going down that path? Just one thing. Fear…fear….We’re worried about what we’ll have to give up: our power, our authority. We’re worried that we that we will fail. Truth be told, we will from time to time. We will fail quickly. We will fail fast and try something different. But we have to vanquish that fear and see what will happen when we do things differently together.

We can then grieve what we have lost, and that is important to do, but we can honor what God is doing in that moment with creativity and new life.  

And so, that i think is the work ahead. Try as we might, we have created a diocesan budget to spur this on and that will be a tool in our toolbox but the most important ingredient is you. It’s all of us together, working together. I pray that we will empower this work in our budget resolution. And we will more profoundly empower in how we connect and risk together to be not the receiving church but the sending church. To do God’s mission where God’s tender, hurting people are. Surely here with us see but most easily found out in the world. It’s a task that requires our imagination and so as we move through these days, I recognize in myself and I think in all of us who wish for a degree of greater clarity. I wish I were a good enough artist or writer to paint or describe and deliver what this future will look like. I wish I had that crystal ball. I don’t. I understand more fully what St. Paul was saying when he talked about now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face-to-face. I want face-to-face now. And all I have is the dim mirror, but you know that is where faith comes in.

[The bishop puts his Cubs hat on.]

I’m a man of faith. And I know you are people of faith. We’re on the way of Jesus. It’s a pilgrim’s path of profound trust. We need each other on the journey. GPS on our iPhones won’t help us. Google? Search for the answers will not create any results. It’s us with God as our constant companion.   

Our vocation is to be follower of Jesus.  We stand with Jesus in this tender and hard spots. We do not stand alone. We are drawn to Jesus and we are draw to each other. The threads of our baptismal covenant and the bread of Eucharist, they bind us together. Together, together we can be transformed and transformative. Together we can risk. We can dare to love. We can be fearless and go into that harvest. That’s where the work is to be done. God so loves the world, he needs us and our love in the harvest. We are being sent.  We are people of faith.  And so, let’s go! God bless you. [Applause and standing ovation.]


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