Watch the video of Bishop Rickel’s Address to the 106th Annual Convention of the Diocese of Olympia.
Listen to the audio recording of Bishop Rickel’s Address to the 106th Annual Convention of the Diocese of Olympia.
October 22, 2016
Good People of the Diocese of Olympia, guests, and visitors. It is so very good to be together with you once again and especially for this our 106th Annual Convention.
In preparing for this convention and especially for this address, I decided to go back and look at addresses of years past, not mine, particularly (I know what I said!) but to the bishops before and especially to the beginning of this diocese we now share and steward together. I found some interesting things. One, was just how much the issues have changed, and at the same time how so many of them have not changed at all.
There are some things you will be glad I did not pick up on and try to bring forward. For instance, Bishop’s addresses sometimes lasted over an hour in the early years. Today I have twenty minutes. I know many of you will sign up for the belief that this is progress! And perhaps you are thinking right now – the wonders of God’s mercy never cease.
In the first Annual Convention of the newly formed and approved Diocese of Olympia, which was held in May, 1911 at St. Paul’s Church, Seattle, Bishop Frederic Keator said this in his convention address.
The Church in the world, and in every diocese throughout the world, exists for the one great purpose of extending the Kingdom of God, of setting forward and carrying on the work which Jesus Christ came to do among us and for us. This great truth, plain and even commonplace as we know it to be, must not be lost sight of for a moment, but must be kept constantly in our minds in all the work which we shall do during this convention. So far as determining of what our diocesan law shall be is concerned, the great questions which we must try to answer are, first, how can we best equip this new diocese for the great work which lies before it? And second, how can we best enable it to start forth, and move ever forward, amid the great responsibilities which God has put upon it, and the opportunities which God is opening before it?
That has not changed. Bishop Keator’s address was filled with ideas of the Kingdom of God, and our role in seeing it forward. I found that idea, that image and that hope, in addresses throughout our history. And we still, as we move ever forward, have great responsibilities and great opportunities, within the boundaries of this diocese and far beyond.
We now inhabit a world filled with refugees, a forced migration which has not been seen in decades – perhaps ever. Greg Hope of our Refugee Office tells me there are enough refugees in the world now to match the populations of California and Texas, and the number is growing around the world every day.
The issue of race in our country continues to plague us and divide us. Our dignified election processes seem to be dismantling before our eyes, and the civility that seemed to be a hallmark of our collective lives seems to be threatened as well. And much of the rhetoric reveals how far we still have to go on so many vexing issues. The Rev. Brandon Mauai’s presence with us reminds us how old injustices remain unresolved and every bit as real today. We have some mighty challenges that the prayer “Your Kingdom Come” directly relates to.
Further into Bishop Keator’s first address at that first convention, he remarked:
I am persuaded that one of the greatest hindrances to the coming of the Kingdom of God in the world today, and in no part of it more so than within the borders of this diocese, is the wretched sectarianism, which so obscures the truth that the minds of all people are perplexed, and they are ready to cry out: “When you Christians have settled among yourselves what the Church is, it may be worthwhile for me to consider it, but certainly not before!”
Well, that has not changed much either. Christianity’s character, purpose, and mission is about as varied and diverse as is the human community. There is no doubt we have a long way to go on that.
However, in this convention, as we begin the celebration of the 500th year of the Reformation, we have a tangible and incarnate sign of some positive change in Bishop Keator’s 1911 observation.
I think the presence of my colleagues, friends, and fellow pilgrims, the two incredible bishops of the Lutheran Synods we share, here with us is proof that has changed in some miraculous ways in these counts. I have the deepest respect and gratitude for both of these fine people. There are so many ministries we share together, like Mission to Seafarers, and including congregations we literally share together. I think Bishop Keator would be happy today. We have made some progress on that front.
There are so many good things happening in this diocese. And so many ways our connections are deepening and growing.
I found in Bishop Arthur Huston, our second bishop’s address to the 16th Convention of 1926, these words:
In a recent conference with the rector, wardens, vestry, and others the proposed new Saint Mark’s was offered to me as bishop of the diocese for use as a Cathedral.
In accepting the same, I have not been influenced by any allusions as to what a Cathedral can do of itself. It will be just what we make of it, nothing more… There is no time now to discuss the purpose and function of a Cathedral, nor a Bishop’s relationship to it. Suffice it to say that a Cathedral ought to be a centrifugal, not a centripetal force; a dynamo, not a rheostat.
Now if you’re confused by that statement, I was too. That is one thing I did learn looking back. Just how more colorful and varied the vocabularies of our past bishops were. I had to have a dictionary by me at all times!
Centrifugal, moving out from the center, instead of centripetal, moving in toward the center. Dynamo, a direct and constant current out, not a rheostat, somewhat controlled.
He went on to say:
It is that center from which missionary zeal and activity radiate through the Diocese. This is part of advancing the work of the whole Kingdom of God.
That is what a Cathedral should be.
Saint Mark’s Cathedral is the visual heart of our diocese. Known around the city as the Beacon on the Hill, the Holy Box, it is a visual icon for our church, but even more for our city and region. It is, in the finest sense, what I think a Cathedral Church should be, a public church, a commons not only for a diocese, but for the people of the city and the region. It is and has been in its history truly a House of Prayer for all people.
Saint Mark’s, on your behalf, has been that over and over again throughout the years, gathering people in times of sorrow, in times of celebration, in times of protest. The Dean and the leadership has worked over these past few years to bring all Episcopalians into the realization that this Cathedral is your Cathedral, but even more that by and through the connection we have in this diocese, you serve and minister to those people who come to it, who find it a place of God’s grace when they have no other place to find that.
Last night at dinner, Bishop Unti said that very thing to me unsolicited. And he loves the mission of the Cathedral, hearing the Dean say, “This isn’t my Cathedral, it’s your Cathedral.”
Sydney Evans, Dean of Salisbury Cathedral and of King’s College in London, said:
A cathedral is both a protest and a proclamation… a protest against all ideologies and political systems which deny or diminish the spirituality, dignity and true liberty of human persons, and a proclamation of the Christian Way as an invitation to pilgrimage, an offered route by which human beings can find help in their search for the answer to their fundamental questions: “Who am I?” “What may I hope?” “What should I do?”
And Luke Bretherton once wrote:
A Cathedral is meant to represent a vision of salvation that raises a question mark above all schemes which depend upon human effort alone.
But in the end, it is that quote from Bishop Huston, that is true for us today, “The Cathedral will be just what we make of it, nothing more.”
And so, I will soon be inviting all of you, your congregations, and you as individuals to be part of a much-needed Capital Campaign for Saint Mark’s Cathedral. We are calling it the Living Stones Campaign. And to a degree, the stones have literally come alive at Saint Mark’s. And by come alive, I mean the concrete has actually begun falling to the ground. It was rather dangerous to walk around the Cathedral not too long ago.
That, at least, has been blessedly stopped, but the work long term remains. And our efforts to preserve the Cathedral for generations to come now falls to us.
For me, one of the marks of a successful campaign is how dedicated those that call it a spiritual home every day do to make that campaign a reality. I commend the Dean, his staff and the people of our Cathedral for doing an amazing job in this regard. And I am pleased to tell you that as of this date, they have raised $7.25M toward this effort. Their vestry has authorized a construction project not to exceed $10.5M, leaving $3.25M left to raise, part of which must come from this diocesan phase of the campaign.
The Dean will tell us a bit more about this later today, and I will be saying much more in the year to come, but I hope you will put this squarely in your thinking right now – to join this campaign in some way.
As Bishop Huston said, it will be what we make of it. It has been, and can yet be, so much to this diocese and to this region.
Going back to Bishop Keator’s speech at that first convention, his first question was how do we equip this “new” diocese for the great work that lies before it?
Now, this is where it would be easy for us to suggest, that this has changed. We are certainly not new. I just want to tell you now that I hope this convention, right now, is a challenge to that thought.
We believe in a God, in fact, the very Kingdom of God we have as our theme, as our call as Christians is based in the belief in a God that makes all things new. What I have witnessed in my nine-plus years ministering with you, as your Bishop, is a people working to transform, a people dreaming of something more, a people carefully and prayerfully moving toward something deeper, the making of something new.
In short, since I don’t have an hour, I want to say, and I am willing to debate this point with anyone later, we are a new diocese, we are a new church, and that was true yesterday, and it is true today, and if we are being the disciples Jesus calls us to be it will be just as true tomorrow and every day after. The question is not whether that is true, that this is new, but rather can we see it, own it, live with and in it?
We are always evolving and growing, or we are dead. In just a moment, when I finish speaking, you are going to see, and be invited into, a tangible icon of how we are new, how we are being created still, when your Standing Committee under the most incredible leadership of the Rev. Jane Maynard will share with you a new vision for this diocese. It is the culmination of work from previous years that this convention and this entire diocese has discerned, and churned, and massaged, and kicked around in the hopes of pointing us in a more focused way into this new church of ours.
It is one in which I believe we are saying what a diocese – which is all of us, you and me, everyone that is here and everyone that is back home where you come from, everyone that considers themselves Episcopalians in Western Washington – what a diocese is, what it does, what it can be, all of us together, and also, what it is not, what it can’t be anymore, what we believe it is inefficient to be, and perhaps even unfaithful to try to be.
I believe the new vision is a liberating one, it comes with a full measure of the belief that the experts about the context you live in, wherever your worshipping community is, is you, and the people that work, play, live, and die there.
The Office of the Bishop is just part of the diocese, it is not the diocese. We get that wrong so often, in our thoughts, in our language, and those semantics are so important.
The Office of Bishop exists to gather, to convene, to train, to equip, to nurture, but most importantly, to work alongside you.
Any local congregation is doing what you have discerned as your call, what you have discerned are your focus areas, what you see as your ministry and mission in the community in which you testify and live out your faith in Jesus Christ. In short, you decide how you will live into that prayer, “Your Kingdom Come.”
The Office of the Bishop exists to help you carry out your call and mission in your local context, to help you discover it if you need help with that, but it does not exist for you to support it, anymore than what it exists to do for and with you.
You have seen this tangibly in our efforts to lower the assessment. This year, with your approval, it will go to 15%, which is much lower than anything I had dreamed nine years ago.
And I just want to remind you that every percentage drop in assessment is a direct grant back to every congregation, so that you might use those resources addressing the mission as you have discerned it, in your local context.
When I came here as your bishop nine years ago, I found a lot of health, and a lot of hope, and a lot of faith, within the people making up the Body, our diocese, but I also found a lot of dysfunction and distrust and lack of clarity in how we worked together. And what I witnessed and what I sensed was that the leadership you needed was a bit more heavy-handed, a bit more directive, one that was out front, calling a people to follow.
But I knew from the beginning, that for us to grow, for us to truly come into the fullness of what is possible as a diocese and as the Body of the Christ, that style could not be the end. It too, had to evolve, change, become new.
And so, nine short years ago, I came bearing three focus areas, based on the profile you had developed for that election, and the governing bodies and this convention have been so very supportive of them, and through those we have gained confidence and focus. We have built trust, and we have grown in so many ways. I believe those focus areas served their purpose, but after today those will be no more. You, locally may choose to keep them, but we now believe that such goals cannot and should not come from a place other than the very center of Christian discipleship, the local worshiping community.
This new vision says two things:
We are a new church.
The heart of our work as that new church happens, is incarnated, right where you live and work and worship.
In short, as I have said to you through the years, the hope is to give the leadership more and more back to you, and that time has come and I believe it is going to be a fun and exciting time for us all. It will take some time, and some struggle, and yet, I have to tell you I am so renewed in my call and so excited by the possibility and promise which this new vision offers us.
And so, here we are, you and me, 106 years later, with some of the same questions and challenges, and with a theme – Your Kingdom Come. I know 106 years ago Bishop Keator probably could throw around the term Kingdom of God, without much question of those words.
Today, it is not so easy. Kingdom is a word and a concept fraught with a lot of baggage, and I think we should in every way mine that baggage, question it, and remold it, but even with all of those issues, we have kept it, why?
Well one reason is that it is still a prime plea in a prayer we were given by our Lord and one we make together and collectively every time we gather in worship and prayer.
And I think we keep it because we know God’s Kingdom is surely different than any earthly one… has to be, must be. That is the whole point, the oppressive and unjust parts of such kingdoms on earth are completely transformed and made right in the Kingdom God wishes for us all. And that is the one we speak of and hope for and are called to incarnate and create, not sometime forth, but now.
Your Kingdom Come is a prayer, a plea, a challenge, and a call for, and on, all of us.
Any convention address has the burden of selecting what is most important to impart on such days and in that specific time. It is an awesome task for which I sweat it out every year. There is much that could be discussed, there is much that will be left out. I ask your forgiveness for any such omissions.
And in the spirit of looking back so that we might look forward, I end with another quote from Bishop Huston, Second Bishop of the Diocese of Olympia, with the words in which he ended his first convention address as bishop, the first of twenty-two he would give. He wrote:
If now, I seem to any of you to have dealt over much upon temporalities than upon spiritualties, upon machinery rather than upon power, I would remind you that these two are not antithetical but supplementary to one another. The statement that the Church is an organism rather than a mechanism is a mischievous half-truth. The Church is both or it is nothing… It is not so much that we give too much thought to the physical body, this Body, as that we give too little thought to Christ, who is the head of that body. This is a mistake, but it would also be a mistake to look to the mechanism for the creation of power rather than as a means for the transmission of power. Whatever spiritual life we have as individuals is transmissible through the mechanism which the Church places at our disposal. But for this spiritual life itself we can look to no other source than to the author and giver of life, Christ himself.
To that high aim let us direct our thoughts and prayers, but let us do it with the same high objective that was in our Lord’s mind when he said, “For their sakes, I sanctify myself.”
My sisters and brothers, this is a new church. We have built much together. We have much yet to build, together.
And so, to the God who loves us and gives us life, we make our prayer, May Your Kingdom Come.
My sisters and brothers I have spoken these words to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.