“This Is Us, Looking Back, Moving Forward.” That’s our theme for this 2018 Convention. And I know some of you have asked why did we steal the title of an Emmy Award-winning TV drama? Well, I would just say, because it’s good. As I said to you at the Bishop’s Leadership Conference, I believe in the CASE method: Copy and Steal Everything. Which you can of course, when you can. And that title seemed to fit us as a diocese and a church – the Body of Christ – and us as a country, a society, and the world.
Gary Wills in his book Certain Trumpets, which was about leadership, but even more about what it is to be a good and conscientious follower – the art and demand of that which he of course asserts we have lost – once powerfully remarked about any organization (that’s certainly about any church, country, or world), “Show me your leader and you have bared your soul.”
“Show me your leader and you have bared your soul.” It’s easy to blame leaders of anything, the local Rotary Club, the church, the country. And yet what is good and what is not as good in those leaders is often the result of our followership.
When I watch what is happening around us on a daily basis, like any of you, I want to distance myself from it – kind of broken off as something happening outside of me. But the reality is just as our theme suggests, “This Is Us.” At least right now, “This Is Us.” This is what we have become, this is what we are. As we participated in getting it to this place, it’s our call and responsibility to take it wherever we feel it needs to go. That’s what good followers do. In essence, that is how followers are leaders. Following is not a passive thing, we are not powerless. For now, these two days, and continuing in the year to come for me and you, we’re going to focus on this thing we share, this church we made and hold and steward together, that we lead and follow.
We call it a diocese. It’s a confusing concept and one that has been for as long as the church has used the term. I find myself constantly reminding people that the diocese is not the house on Capitol Hill where my office is and where most diocesan staff work. That’s the Office of the Bishop, part of the diocese. We, all of us, every congregation in every town, every person who claims the Episcopal tradition, that is the diocese. We have to keep working on that.
And while I’m at it and I have the microphone – please, please let’s stop using the term the National Church, please. The Episcopal Church is not a national church. We are no longer the Episcopal Church U.S.A., ECUSA. I’m so glad that one’s gone, I always wanted to say gesundheit after that.
We are an international church. When we call ourselves a national church, we are writing off the Episcopalians in Colombia, Haiti, Taiwan, Honduras, Ecuador, Venezuela, Micronesia, and the Dominican Republic. And those bishops from those places remind us in the House of Bishops every time the term’s used and it’s used far too often, still in the House of Bishops. “This Is Us.” We are an international church, not a national one.
I also like the theme “This Is Us,” because packed into those three little words is both declaration and indictment. It’s the same time both a description and a challenge. And when we stop at the moment in time as we do today, hopefully this next year, and say “This Is Us,” we do well to look back at what got us to this point. Hopefully to the good, but also where we went wrong.
I’ve been doing that, looking back. When I look back, I see in the mirror a young bishop who ain’t so young anymore and one that was far more frightened and stressed than he was want to let on. In our beginning, that stress and a fear that maybe he made some mistakes. I’m still making them. There’s a lot of on the job training in this gig, and I learned a lot in those first few years. I’ve told you the story before of the usher dutifully doing his job at my consecration in Bellevue. I had decided to walk to the event with my alb already on straight down the streets of Bellevue, right into the Eisenhower Center. When I got to the lobby, I was making my way through that usher came to me and said, “Son, all the Acolytes are lining up in room 32B.” And I just told him, “I’ll get up there as quickly as I can.”
I often long for those days now. When I look back, I see a diocese that seemed a bit lost, somewhat fragmented, where trust needed to be built again. I sensed a great deal of fear about the future and a thing called “The None Zone” – a place where it seemed the church was becoming more and more irrelevant. There was a huge amount of concern for finances and for the fact that we were an aging church.
A reporter asked me just a few days after the election what I hoped for this diocese. I told him I hoped for a diocese that was healthy, connected, growing. And one that would be looked to by others in the Episcopal church as a model for the church in the future.
I’m not sure we’re there yet. But I do believe we’ve made some significant steps toward it. The College of Congregational Development, now a decade old, has had significant impact on our collective life in this diocese, but even more on the Episcopal Church.
When our presiding Bishop visited this past June, this was one of the various specific requests he had to see it in action.
Many dioceses across the Episcopal Church have come to the College, have taken it back, adopted this model, and still today new dioceses are exploring it to do there. Most all of our congregations have participated in it in some way.
When I look back, I know we have lowered assessments consistently over those years so that more money can be left at the local level for you to use for ministry there. Those assessments in that time have moved from 20% to this convention where we will take up a resolution to lower it yet again to 14.5%. All the while, your leaders have been careful in increasing the diocese budget not to decrease funds going back to the congregation through grants and other funding. Over all of these years, we’ve been pretty much able not to cut those.
Even more when I look back at that first convention, we had a nonpayment rate of assessments of more than 10%. In successive years, and especially the last few, we’ve had the lowest percent of nonpayment in our history. Lower than 1%, and even in one brief, shining moment a few years ago, we were at 0% nonpayment that lasted for about 15 minutes. I actually never thought we could ever hit it.
Along with that shift is the new vision about the last year, which turns the working Diocese more toward global, and calls us deeper into the reality where we have connected to that work, done where you are, not focused on becoming something, someone, somewhere has decided you should be.
We have shifted the Office of Bishops to being more of a teacher of skills you can use back home, with the power to convene, so we can share with one another and learn from one another, instead of a provider of programs that often do not fit are not culturally appropriate and do not have room in the particular context in which you live.
It’s a shift to helping you lead where you are, in the context you’ve been given, not centralizing the solution. And when I think what is left yet to do, this is a big one, this is the moment questions I’m asking now: What is a diocese for today? How should the diocese function in this new world? We have a lot of work to do on that yet.
The most recent Bishop’s Leadership Conference for me was an incarnation of this shift. For one thing the response was tremendous, over 70% of that congregation’s participated. We actually had people from outside of the diocese want to register to attend, which was extremely flattering, but we had to tell them this was for those inside the diocese. It was kind of hard to do, when we want to be inclusive. The incarnation I referred to is just how connected we seemed, how much more willing we are to share our ideas, and to learn from one another, and how unfragmented that seemed. There is more trust in transparency in our life yet, and that seems different to me.
Our staff was worried no one would come to the Bishop’s Leadership Conference, and yet we sold it out, and we had waiting lists. We’re planning this again, new and different based on the same model in the Spring of 2020.
That conference also made me believe that we are, indeed, that much more healthy, focused, and ready to grow spiritually, numerically, and not accepting the declines in our faith, and discovering what it is to be the relevant church in this region at this time. I feel that, like I haven’t felt it before.
This diocese has always been on the forefront of peace and justice issues, and I believe that is going to continue and refine and become more of a collective effort and is more necessary now more than ever. Whether it’s speaking out on behalf of in support of transgender people, or refugees and immigrants, the #MeToo Movement, the marching against gun violence, standing up for the care of creation and our environment… it’s speaking out against mass incarceration and the misuse of power against the people of color, or standing on the side of any who are discriminated against, I say here, emphatically, this is not done out of politics, it’s done out of theology. It is done out of the vows you made at baptism. And out of the call of the Gospel in each of us as people of faith.
This is us. This courage is needed now more than ever, and it’s also the great connection we have in the world that often sees very little and hears very little from us on these vexing issues that seem to so resonate with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the One we say we follow. And I believe many of the world are waiting to see us pray, speak, and act in concert with that Jesus. To be his followers in the world aren’t domesticating his message in life in a way for our convenience, but instead living courageously as he lived. We have a lot more to do in all of that.
One place is sexual harassment, sexual discrimination, and systems in the church designed to mitigate those. The #MeToo movement’s brought that to the steps of the church every bit as much as to the steps of all organizations. Much of our general convention this past summer focused in this area, both legislatively and simply around the edge of us at that gathering, as well it should. That same attention will be need to be paid to here. And there are many directions being taken, many leaders stepping up here to do, and there is much to do and around the feeling reconciliation equally and reforming our systems.
One such way will come to this convention in resolutions from general convention, but one will come as a six-hour resolution. This convention, for various reasons, has a penchant for not taking enough six-hour resolutions, and there’s a tradition in the bishops here in this convention try to remain as nonpartisan as possible during that, but on my part, I’m going to break that tradition by sharing with you my very real support, my very real encouragement, that this six-hour resolution will be voted on to consider, and then voting confirmatively to be put in motion. And, in turn, I ask that you’ll break this convention’s tradition of not taking that six-hour resolution by taking this one up and go before it, no matter where we are on Saturday afternoon.
It’s only one step, and it’s a very good one, that I support. I hope you will, too. There is much to do on this and many more resolutions and policy changes, and more to be done, but we have to start, and I hope we will continue the momentum by passing all of these resolutions.
We have witnessed of late, our public discourse to become mean, hate-filled, and violent. And I believe this diocese, all of us, have a call now to reveal to the world how to be in civil conversations. To state our truths without regret or apology, but not to be demonizing or belittling. We simply have to model and insist on decency and basic respect. Jesus was not a retiring wallflower. He said tough things, but he always based such things in the solid foundation of the love of God for every one of God’s children, even the one he opposed. We must live out that same place and model the same in our lives.
So. This is just a bit of my little feedback on the “This is Us,” that I can be proud of, and some of “This is Us” that I believe remains undone. Declaration and indictment, we have to own both.
That brings us to now, what do we do with that reflection, that look back? This convention with this theme is a call by myself and the governing bodies for a year of discernment together. As I have reminded you, and reminded myself for that matter, just about every convention we’ve had over the past several years, we have arrived at the window of time I declared when you elected me bishop is a time when I said I would leave this office. To remind those who have not been through it typically during the process of receiving a new bishop the diocese goes through the search process, which usually, although we are seeing this change a bit of late, results in a slate of candidates, who are presented to the diocese and then asked to come here and to move around the diocese in a model which has been referred to in our Church as the “Walkabouts.”
I’ve participated in those 11 years ago traveling all this diocese and falling in love with it. During those, I had vowed that if I were elected, I would most likely leave somewhere around 10-12 years, believing the system needs change, and that I might be bored by then, knowing my inclinations and past experiences as a leader.
Now, it’s been interesting about the numbers people heard when I’ve said that or even if they had heard it. Some swear they had never heard me say it, some believed I said five years. And those who had that faint hope and wish did begin asking me back then. “Didn’t you say you were leaving in about five years?” I apologized to them over these last five, realizing that to them, I may have overstayed my welcome.
So, last year, I brought in several of the governing bodies of our retreat, and I shared that if I were to live up to my vow, then it’s time to begin a transition. And this incited a bit of stress and conversation, and thought on both our parts that we seemed to be right in the middle of things, perhaps even right at the cusp of some new things happening, some new directions taken and maybe it was not such a good time for a change. I had to admit to them when I was in those Walkabout this job to be when I was in those walkabouts and made that vow, what it has turned out to be are very different things. I also had to say, I’m certainly not bored.
So, out of that uncertainty on their part and mine, we have come to the process I would like to, at least initially, orient you to today. With some of you, I’ve shared over the years I really don’t like how we do our search processes for priests and bishops. I likened it to cheating on your spouse. In most cases when we decide it’s time to leave, we’d sneak around finding that next spot and then announce and then leave fairly abruptly. It seems contrary to what I believe is a discerning tradition that we are a part of. I’ve modeled this in my congregation, back when I was discerning the call to be your bishop. Having a discerning committee in the congregation, walking with Marti and I, we discerned whether it was time to leave that place, and even whether the call to the Office of Bishop was right for me, we reported regularly to the whole congregation. And I cannot tell you how difficult that was, and how rich.
I think everyone involved was supportive doing it that way, by the time we got to the end of it as difficult as it would be at times, than to do it the usual way. This belief about our search process is what made me make the vow in the first place.
So, in some ways, we here are asking you, us, to do the same thing. Instead of doing this as it’s normally done, we’re going to try something new: Discernment together, about our future. Which will very much include if I should be in this future or not. We have researched this a bit and pretty much believe this is not been tried quite like this before. And so we have no experiences to go back on, and we are creating this together, too. It might be rich and fulfilling, and it might blow up in our face. We hold that up as a possibility, too.
You are going to hear a lot more about the proposals in your standing committees at this convention, but it’s simply, essentially, you and I are going to discern together the future of this diocese, and my future, too. We’re going to do some of the work producing a profile of our diocese now, as if we were asking a typical process whereby the Bishop announce their retiring resignation and had a day and was now riding off into the sunset, delaying when that was released. Instead, we’re going to try to do that together.
Instead of walkabouts, we’re going to have in this next year, “WalkAgains.” These are literal events which have been planned and which dates exist, and these will be shared with you by the standing committee in a presentation. These four events will be held in diverse places around the diocese. I will be present for the beginning of them, doing some of what our theme suggests, looking back and giving my perspective of where we have come from and who we are now, then I will leave, and you will be together without me here to talk about the future you see and discuss how you think that future should be led and by what kind of leader it should be led. After those events, and very much a part of this process, even though it might seem I’m benefiting the most from this, I’m going on sabbatical July 6th through November 5th next year. As Canon Dede Moore reminded me this week returning just two days before this convention needs to end, so that convention will be mostly planned by you and the staff, and if you haven’t figured it out, pretty much mostly it’s all ready.
My sabbatical will focus on the practices of Christianity for our age, with a special look at pilgrimage. My wife and I plan to walk some of the Camino and to make pilgrimage. I have other plans to write, and perhaps even produce video web-based confirmation and inquirers class for our diocese and the rest of the church. But the bulk of it, will be about my personal discernment, with all we hear in our work on this year leading up to it including feedback, hopes, and dreams, that I hope to hear from you.
You at that same time will, without me in the mix, do some discerning, too. And then we will come back together. One of the things we will be deciding at this convention next year is whether I stay or whether I go. There’s a song. You will have the say in that, I will have a say in that. As I said, it has not been done this way before, and so who knows what it all means?
I am convinced, as is your staff, that I believe your governing bodies as well… that no matter the outcome, we will grow. We will learn a great deal about who we are, what we want to become.
In other words, this process will be help us more fully round out what it means when we say, “This is Us.” That is our goal. Through our collective work of this next year, we hope we will be better prepared to turn, to move forward, using that past, using our assessment now, using that very thing reality that “This is Us.” What looks good? And what looks not-so-good, as we move into our future? To make it better, to work, and grow, ourselves, into a better vision, so that we might stand at a place sometime hence and use the same lens, “This is Us,” and see something there.
That might include me, it might not. I hope you can trust my discernment on that, as I will trust yours.
When we see the remarkable good our work as Episcopalians in the world, it’s good and right to declare, “This is Us,” but equally, when we look at the ways we have failed to engage the world, pay attention to what we could do, “This, also, is us.” Declaration and indictment. We have to own both. We are all equals in both.
In congregations like St. Luke, Ballard; and Saint Mark’s Cathedral; St. Luke ~ San Lucas, Vancouver; Christ Church, Seattle; St. Dunstan, Shoreline; St. Timothy, Chehalis; St. Paul, Port Townsend. And countless others. Feed and house the homeless, “This is Us.” Do. “This is Us, not just Them but Us.” And equally, when the homeless crisis worsened right at all our doorsteps without our response, “This is Us,” too.
When ministries like Chaplains on the Harbor and St. James Family Center in Cathlamet and Episcopal Harvest meet the very real needs of the economically depressed areas of our diocese, and advocate for people that suffered the most because of it, “This is Us.” And when we failed to see this in our own neighborhoods, or even in our own Church, or shrink at the challenge of addressing the same where we are, “This is Us,” also.
When our Refugee Resettlement Office and Mission to Seafarers welcome people from all over the world to our land, “This is Us.” We do this together. And when our inclinations in this country seem to be moving to close the borders, build walls, to curtail our sharing of our abundance with the world, “This is Us,” also.
When we profess that our God, and therefore our church, is a house of prayer for all people, all people, people of all races, colors, creeds, beliefs, “This is Us.” And when the reality of our gathering is to remain some of the whitest and ancient, and too often exclusive by our actions, “This is Us.”
When our Presiding Bishop rocks the world of the message that is so needed and so right, that our God is as God of love, our way is the way of love, “This is Us.” And when we face the reality that our church is still too-often unsafe for children and women, and a place where authority can be misused, and still is, where processes are often more legal than pastoral, where leaders cover up rather than expose, “This is Us,” too.
Of course, I could go on, and I hope you will in your minds, and in your hearts, and in especially over this next year of discerning. Go on with this theme, this analogy. Yes. Stolen from a TV drama, because they knew it was good, too. It’s not either-or, it’s both-and. We are called to celebrate the good of this faith of ours compels us to do. And to also reckon with the failures that follow, complete whole, right, “This is Us.”
I have to say I’m so glad for you. I’m so glad to be part of the “Us” in “This is Us.” Whether that goes on for a time or it’s coming to a close, it has been the richest gift that I’ve been blessed about the work and and by all of you.
My sisters and brothers, I’ve said these words to you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.