The following address was presented virtually by Bishop Rickel at the 110th Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia:
Let us pray:
Holy One, as we gather together, we thank you for this day and for adding it to our lives. We ask you to reset our agendas, and to know you, even in our physical separation, ever present at the center of our gathering. You assure us that where two or more gather in your name you are here, and we know you are here even as we meet in this way. Recalibrate our intentions and refocus our hearts on you even in the midst of difficult and challenging times, and issues. Shift our perspective to seek your peace above all else. Struggling for solutions amidst differing ideas can seem impossible. Thankfully, we are not expected to be perfect. Thankfully, we’re told in Scripture that we will all fall short. So, as we work here today and tomorrow, let us release the bind of blame in exchange for accord. Help us to endure disagreement and strife with godly patience, courage and love, that can only come from our faith in you. At the same time do not let us stray or wander or cover up or accommodate that which should not be ignored, faced, and changed. As we begin this 110th Convention of the Diocese of Olympia have mercy on your Church, your Body in the world, troubled and divided, and yet yearning to be at one with you and with one another. Help us to be the people you call us to be. Help us to be the Body you want us to be. Help us to be your servants as we work to redeem, restore and remold your church so that we might be made new, as individuals and as a community, and that we may be one in Christ for the sake of the world. Instill within delegates humble hearts and discerning minds that hunger and thirst for your righteousness and justice, and your vision for our future. Through the decisions and spirit of this convention, renew in the whole church a passionate longing for the coming of the vision and dream you have for us as your people, and unite us in one mission: to proclaim, share, and live the Way of Jesus, the Way of Love, for the sake of the transformation of the world. Amen.
As I begin this address, I would like to acknowledge that I am standing on the traditional land of the first people of Seattle, the Duwamish People past and present, a people that are still here, continuing to honor and bring to light their ancient heritage, and to honor with gratitude the land itself and the Duwamish Tribe. May we always remember that the Earth does not belong to us, that we belong to the Earth, and that we are all relatives in life. Help us to learn from our past mistakes and be instruments of justice and peace for all people in today’s world.
Last year, when we gathered in person, which, in so many ways seems like so many years ago, another era in some ways, none of us could have imagined this setting now, just one year from that one. The world we spend our daily lives in has changed through two pandemics – of course, the pandemic of COVID-19 and the pandemic of racial inequality and injustice in our country, and in our church. Both have challenged all of us in these past days, but I stand here, convinced and resolute, that together, through our kinship in this faith we share, and with the generous spirit asked of us through that faith, that together, we can have an impact on both, and that we can be changed, redeemed, transformed as a people. Indeed, I have seen that repeatedly throughout this church, during this time, and I am grateful for the way you have taught me in all of it.
I would like to start this address by getting out of the way some of the more obvious issues. First, this meeting will be like no other. No matter how many conventions you have attended in the past, this one can’t help but win the prize for the most unique and different. If you have never been a delegate before, you might actually be in a better frame of mind right now, as this way is the only way you know, but for those who have attended before, this all will be very different. I am just going to say it, we are all going to have to gird up our loins with patience. The fabulous company we have behind us, PSAV have been remarkable to work with. I asked Dede if PSAV stands for anything and she said as far as she could see no, but that is the name, so there you go. They have worked well with us, and I give thanks for all of them, who most of you will never know or see, but through them and their great skill and gifts we are able to do what we do today. I hope to do this later, but lest I don’t get to or I forget, I want to specifically name a few of them now. They are:
- Tim Ennenbach, producer
- James Garlow, Chime designer
- Jacob Sutter, technical manager
- Eva Andrade, stage manager
And I want to thank Canon Dede Moore, who was the main staff person responsible for making all of this happen, and even she stated yesterday – and if you know her, you know this is true – she is a perfectionist, and through the planning of this convention she has developed a great spiritual discipline of letting that go, as we all are going to need to do. You will find this convention perhaps slower, and a word we have been using a lot lately, clunkier than perhaps in the past. For instance, when you step to the virtual microphone to speak, you may notice a longer pause – just be patient, we will get there.
Depending on how you look at it there may be some great things about this new format, some things we might learn and want to carry forward. One I can think of right off is the ability to turn off your mic at two minutes during debate. I must confess my secret joy at that new addition. I know many of you are saying in your head and many out loud, “Yes, bishop, we wish we could do that to you!” And I do understand.
Turning off mics is something we have avoided up till now, but in this format, it is almost required. So again, be patient and hone your skills at two minutes folks!
Still, with all of this, it is my personal goal, and I can say the goal of all the staff, and all those we have hired to work with us on this, to make this smooth, equitable, and as painless as possible. Time will tell if we can deliver, but it will not be because we didn’t try mightily for it to be so.
We also had a decision to make as to just exactly what we would try to accomplish in this convention, in other words, what could we still do this way, that we would do in our normal face-to-face meeting, and what could we not do. In this fairly simple question lies much complexity. There were canonical considerations that had to be worked through, fairness and accessibility questions, and not the least of which, simple technicalities, time, ability, etc. In all of these, we just need to be clear up front, it is not going to be perfect. We will lose some things, and hopefully retain much, and as I said, maybe even learn some new and better methods along the way. We had the decision of whether, as many dioceses across our church did decide, to simply take up business, and that is all, to get the canonically needed items out of the way, and to forgo the usual gathering. Many, I would say perhaps most, have chosen some version of that route.
Our staff and lay leadership discerned this at great length and in the summer made the decision to try to replicate our face-to-face convention as closely as we could, as difficult as that may be. That means more time on Zoom and our other platform, and more complexity, but we made the decision based on the belief that this gathering is crucial to us as a people – and that even more, in this time we are living in, important for us to be connected and to listen and learn together and hopefully grow even more into the people we are called to be, the Body we are called to be. And perhaps the greatest consideration to tip the scale for us in our thinking was the need we have to begin the difficult but crucial work of racial justice, reparation, and reconciliation. To me, this was the most crucial and most important work of our two days here, but even more in all the days and years upcoming.
What that means for this convention is that we will spend time doing just that, working on that, listening to those who have been the most affected by the racial inequality and injustice that exists within our Body. I am delighted to welcome the Rev. Dr. Bradley Hauff, Missioner for Indigenous Ministries for the Episcopal Church and on the Presiding Bishop’s staff, as our keynote speaker for this convention. At our last convention you voted to create the Task Force on Land Acknowledgement. That Task Force, under the able leadership of Allen Hicks, met during this year and you have just heard their report, and Bradley will be bringing this to our attention even more in his presentation to us tomorrow. I thank him, and the Ethnic Ministries Circles of Color, which you will also hear from today and tomorrow for their work, example, and wisdom in leading us in this. I believe, as Bradley will accentuate, that land acknowledgement is a form of reparation and one I need to engage in and follow, and I thank him and the Circles of Color for teaching me that.
As we speak of reparations for the wrongs, I have also been led by these voices to look for ways I can personally make reparations. I am still learning. I will share one way revealed to me by other teachers, which is the Real Rent program of the Duwamish tribe, whose land I stand on now. Starting this summer, my wife and I have paid $54 a month in rent to the Duwamish, which – let’s face it – is a grain of sand on the beach in respect to all that was taken from them and all they lost at the hands of the white man. They themselves suggest 54 as a symbolic number to denote the 54000 square acres taken from them which is basically now the city limits of Seattle. I hope you will grant me a generous intent here as I am not trying to pat myself on the back. I am not – in fact, I am way too late to this action – but instead that it be seen as I intend it, as an example of a way you can look locally at ways to make personal reparation. I am also so thankful for the person that was willing to bring it to my attention and through that I began doing it. I share this with the same hope.
Because I believe this focus is the most important work we will do in these two days, I have exercised what authority I have in saying that today, this Friday, we will get all of our agenda finished, even if we must go late, and even if we have to call a special meeting for another Saturday later to finish, so that we do not disturb in any way, the very important work we will be doing tomorrow. In other words, it is my vow and promise that the work tomorrow will take precedence and will occur regardless of where we are with business items we have to do. To me, as we discern what kind of people we will be and what actions as a people we want the world to see of us, tomorrow’s work is the most important work of this gathering.
I wish to say more about all of that, but before I do, I want to share some pastoral concerns and prayerful requests. Most of you know by now that our beloved treasurer, Barb Fox, suffered a stroke several months ago. In the past two weeks, she contracted an infection behind one of her eyes, which grew frighteningly close to her brain. She was in Harborview over this past week, and we have been praying for her recovery. I can report that Heidi, her daughter, relayed to me this past Wednesday that she is out of the hospital, doing much better, and is back at her apartment now. I ask you to keep her in your prayers and to continue to give thanks for all she has done for us over these years and for her continued rehabilitation as she works on that every day. I got to see Barb a few weeks ago through her window, and I have to say, while limited in speech and movement, she is still Barb, and perhaps the thing that meant the most to me was that her smile and her laugh have been totally unaffected. She relishes your prayers and affection and gives thanks for them. You will note that I will ask you to elect her as your treasurer again, knowing that it has taken a slew of people to do the job she did for us, but all of whom are ready, and willing to continue, as we watch, pray for, and encourage Barb’s recovery. I hope you will give Barb a big round of virtual applause and thanks for all she gives to this diocese, free of charge, and from the deepest place in her heart.
I also thank the Liturgy and Arts Commission for all of their hard work on our liturgies and prayers during this convention. And I commend you to stay present and to celebrate with our whole community as we ordain Allen Christianson, from this diocese, and Laura Eberly, who I will ordain on behalf of Bishop Jeff Lee and the Diocese of Chicago, and who will be working with Chicago to transfer her to the Diocese of California where she now resides, works, and lives out her ministry. Both of them will be ordained to the Diaconate tomorrow via livestream from Saint Mark’s Cathedral. We celebrate and give thanks for Allen and Laura.
We meet at this convention in the strangest of times. The last thing most of us want right now is another Zoom meeting, and yet, here we are. Thank you. I thank you for being here, for putting your time and effort into making our Body stronger. This pandemic has made us all shift to a new way of being and of living. So many of you have homes that have become schools, offices, places of refuge for other family, and there is tremendous stress in that. I want to say here just how inspired I have been, and continue to be, at all the creativity, all the resilience, all the patience, and definitely the hard work you have put into that so, as we say, the Church buildings are closed but our Church is open, will be open, and will never close, is a reality. Your great stewardship of our common life in your local expression and place has kept that promise alive, and I thank you for it.
This pandemic has also pulled back the curtain on many of our misconceptions, beliefs, and blind spots. It truly is challenging us on who we will be as a people, both in our country, and more specifically now, as our Church. Early on in this pandemic, health officials, and even I, were saying the virus does not discriminate. The virus is not a racist, it carries no “isms.” It is simply looking for a host to travel on – and with – until it can travel to yet another. It cares not your status in life, your culture, your color, your creed, your party, your faith. It is a pure opportunist.
What those of us who said that did not realize is that this virus would reveal so clearly the discrimination that exists among us. What the virus has shown is that all the disparities in health care, in nutrition, in economic level, in the ability to work from home, or not, in economics, in distribution, in accessibility, has been so obviously exposed.
That, my friends, is not the virus’ doing. That is our doing. What was said in the beginning is still true, the virus does not discriminate, but it has revealed that we still do. That, in this pandemic, is our legacy, being revealed by a virus that truly does not discriminate but which has exposed the long history of our collective discrimination, lack of attention, and lack of action. That it has revealed. Those things are a call for us. Those realities are the challenge for us as we decide what kind of people we will be, what this Body will be and will reveal to the world.
I shared with the clergy of the diocese a banner I see on my walks, hanging on a fence of a house under construction in my neighborhood. I was drawn to the contractor of this house. The bulletin board, posted there for all the subcontractors to see, is also there and having not much else to do on a walk, I often stop and read it. The contractor left a note one day to all the subcontractors thanking them for doing the work they had been called to do and then signing off with his expectation of them. It read, “Do your work, practice your skill, and build this house as if you were building it for your mother.” I loved that. Next to that bulletin board was the banner hanging on the fence which read, “If you think wearing a mask is inconvenient, think what it will be like to wear a ventilator.”
I think this virus is a huge challenge to us about who we are as a people and who we wish to become as a Body. Are we only about ourselves, our personal freedom, our needs and wants, or do we truly follow the Gospel call of Jesus to be about the common good? The virus doesn’t discriminate, but it has revealed that we indeed do.
And the virus is challenging us, pushing us by having as the best way to slow it, or even stop it, for not only caring for ourselves, but caring for others, two simple things: social distance and wearing a mask.
An amazing thing about this great debate and fault line about wearing a mask is how revealing it is in our understanding of community. Now, I am just going to declare right here I am a believer in science. I believe it is a gift from God, and I am following it. I believe wearing a mask will protect more people and bring the death and suffering rates down. I believe that.
I believe wearing a mask will protect you, but in this case wearing a mask is actually more of a protection for the other person. And that, to me, is the most troubling part of the great mask debate. I have to say, I am with former Governor Chris Christie who, having now fallen victim to the virus, asked, for all the sacrifices that have been asked of others so that we might live and be free, really, how much of a sacrifice is it to wear a mask? What do we really prove by standing our ground to not wear it, when we know it will slow the spread and not only protect us, but more than that, protect others? I believe this strange debate and struggle has been one of the most troubling things about this pandemic to me. And it does make me ask, as a people, who are we? What do our actions say about us? As a people, who do we want to be?
I have been asking folk: If you could be promised, guaranteed, that if you wore a mask every time you stepped out of your house, that even one person, possibly someone you don’t know, but one person, would not die, would you do it? I know I may make some of you unsettled with this, but I just have to say my belief is this – our Gospel, and Jesus’s Way, calls us to answer that with a resounding yes, and then to live into it by doing it. Let’s say that is wrong, that science got this wrong, what difference will that make? Who would have been hurt by that? Why do we not want to ere on the side of caution, in order to protect our fellow humans? Inconvenient, perhaps, but hardly sacrificial for the possible gain that we could realize if we would all just do it.
This pandemic is challenging us, you and me, followers of Jesus, to be who he calls us to be. That is easier in some times and much more difficult in others. This, I believe, is a test of just how we see, work for, practice living for the common good, and not just for our own good. And that, to me, is the Gospel.
Let me say that, by and large, I know I am preaching to the choir on this. I have been so inspired and proud of all the ways you, all of you, have risen to this challenge and what your actions in this regard have revealed to the world around us. We have to keep that going for a while, helping each other along the way, by staying vigilant and fighting the fatigue that comes along with it.
As I said earlier, this viral pandemic has pulled back the curtain on other disparities, inequalities, and injustices. The murder of Mr. George Floyd was a full resolution, real time, horrendous witness to a reality far too prevalent in our world. That incident, where the life of Mr. George Floyd was ended, also shined a light on a reality of our common life. All Lives Matter is true in the Kingdom of God. All Lives Matter is a major tenant in the dream God has for us all. I believe that with all my heart. But, I say Black Lives Matter precisely because, All Lives Matter is not yet the truth. It is not yet how we live. It is not yet who we are as a people. It is one reason we do not have a theme for this convention, because, rightly the Circles of Color challenged us about aspirational themes that make it appear we have already done it. No theme is better, meaning we are discovering what the reality is, not naming it to make ourselves feel better. All Lives do Matter, but simply saying that as if that settles it, is a way, and I would say a mostly a white way, to end the discussion that it is not yet a reality for people of color.
And so, this is where we will put much of our energy and time in this convention. It will only be a start. There is no way we can rectify this wrong in these two days, but what we can ensure is that we give it due time, attention, listening, and then preparation for the work – difficult, trying work that lies ahead. It will be the same for me. I stand before you as a recovering racist. As many of you have heard me say, I was converted to this notion through the careful work of the Rev. C.T. Vivian, a hero for me until I die, who died this year, on the same day as his friend and colleague Congressman John Lewis. It was he who converted me to stop denying my racism and instead to claim my illness and to try to begin my healing. I can truthfully say it will be a lifelong journey for me and a lifelong job of reparation needed from me.
I stand before you being clear and succinct. I believe white privilege is real, and that I benefit from it daily, and have all my life. I believe white supremacy is real, and that its reality has benefited me, even as I stand and say that I denounce it in all its forms, the outward, explicit, and hurtful expressions of it, and the more insidious, hidden or unconscious expressions, which I will admit I am more susceptible to and guilty of, even if I desire not to be. In all of these things, we are at a crossroads as a people, as a Body, and the question for us is, who do we want to be? What kind of people, what kind of Body do we wish to be in the face of these realities?
I have wanted, like most of you, most of my life – surely after this conversion – for me to be an ally. And I used to also claim that for myself, to stand and say I am an ally. But I have also converted on that notion. I believe now that the only one qualified to deem me an ally is the one that needs me to be one. I am not qualified or sighted enough to claim it for myself. I vow to you and all listening that I yearn to be an ally, but I cannot claim to be one for myself. And I also will have to admit, even through all efforts, I have failed the people that need me to be that at many turns. I will probably fail again, but I think, if I am going to ever attain the true status of ally I will have to be open to being challenged, confronted, on that, and be willing to say it’s true, as I strive to do better.
We will have presented six resolutions beyond the normal, business-type resolutions we usually take up at this convention. All of them have been presented by the Ethnic Ministries Circles of Color and I can tell you I support them all. They also are a form, a very first step, to reparation, and I can assure you, at least from my personal standpoint, by no means the last step in that direction, but a first one. That work we will do on this day. Tomorrow, we will hear the voices of people of color, those who have suffered at the hands of our inequality and injustice. We will hear from Bradley and be challenged to listen, and hopefully to grow. I want to urge you all to be gracious in your listening, generous and open in your response, prayerful and intentional in how you plan to move forward, beyond these days.
What kind of people will we be? What will our collective reality, our community as the Body of Christ in the world, what will that Body reveal of us, and to us, and especially as it is supposed to, about the One we follow, Jesus Christ our Lord?
Even in the mundane work of any convention, at its core, and at the center, that should always be the question. May it be so, in these days, in the days to come, and in our life together going forward. Blessings to all of you, and thank you all for your leadership, your discipleship, your openness and willingness to be vulnerable, to listen, and to grow.