Engage God’s Mission:

The Presiding Bishop’s Vision for the Episcopal Church
November 21, 2002

Delivered at the 20/20 Strategy Meeting

Camp Allen, Texas November 21, 2002

Let me begin, not with a prayer, but with a piece of scripture from 2 Corinthians: “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation, everything old is passed away. See, everything has become new. All this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. That is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself. Not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us.” The word of the Lord.

The Ministry of Reconciliation

Let me begin, in the light of the Scripture and the prayer I just read. A couple of days after 9/11, the 14th of September, to be specific, I celebrated the Eucharist at the chapel of the Seamen’s Church Institute, which is very close to Ground Zero. And of course, as all of you know, the 14th of September is the Feast of the Holy Cross. And in the Gospel for that particular occasion, the phrase occurs, “And I, when I am lifted up from the Earth will draw all people – or all things – to myself.” So with that piece of scripture, sort of in the back of my head somewhere, Phoebe and I set off in a pickup truck with dry clothes and sandwiches to “minister” – in quotation marks – to some of the rescue workers who were at the sight itself, which is only a block away from St. Paul’s Chapel, of Trinity Parish.

And after delivering food and dry socks, as we came back around the front of St. Paul’s Chapel, heading back to the Seamen’s Church Institute, I noted that the gate was ajar. There was a lot of debris and that gray dust that was everywhere – I didn’t realize at that point that the gray dust was also the fruit of incineration. In any event, I could see that the gate was open and I banged on the window because I was in the back of the truck and I said, “Stop, I just want to see if the church is open.”

So I got out and went up the steps and pushed the door. It opened, inside everything was sort of quiet, nothing had been disturbed – not a pane of glass had been broken. It’s ironic that this centuries-old building so close was totally undamaged. There was, of course, that same gray dust everywhere. And as I looked down the aisle, I could see that the sacristy door was open. So I went into the Sacristy, found a piece of paper, wrote a note. It said, “Just stopped by. Love and prayers, Frank Griswold, Presiding Bishop.” And as I left, the priest [Lyndon Harris] appeared and we sort of fell into one another’s arms and he said, “I’m here and the church is open.” And I said, “Bless you, that’s all you can do is be here with the church open.” Having no idea, either of us, that within the space of a couple of days, St. Paul’s Chapel would become the center of all sorts of respite care and support for all those involved in dealing with that situation.

In any event, as I left the church, I noticed the brass crucifix that stood above the altar -- a Renaissance crucifix. And I noticed these tiny little brass arms and suddenly the piece of scripture from the Gospel earlier, “And I, when I am lifted up will draw all people, all things to myself,” sort of came into consciousness and I had this sense that these tiny brass arms could in fact contain all the horror – anger, rage, grief – every other emotion that was represented by what existed only a block away. And I had this sense that I, Frank Griswold, did not have to carry this alone. Someone else has carried it before me.

And I tell you that because that experience has, what would I say, deepened my sense of what mission is about. I often would use the word reconciliation and people often hear it in a kind of, what would I say, superficial way: Well, we’ll all be nice to one another and that’s reconciliation. Well, this is something far deeper, this is entering into the consciousness of the one who can extend his hands and draw all things to himself. And I think that is what we’re really about: helping the church to understand – in the fullest, deepest and most expansive possible way – what it means to be a community of reconciliation, proclaim, live reconciliation and be that very thing in the world.

So, with that in mind, you can hear again the words from 2 Corinthians, “In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself and if anyone is in Christ there is a new creation, all this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” This isn’t simply a task. Mission is the ministry of reconciliation in all its permutations, in all its forms. And if this seems to be too singular and of me, I simply point you to the Book of Common Prayer, where it describes the mission of the church as “the restoration of all people to unity with God and one another in Christ,” which is what reconciliation is all about.

So, the mission of the church is really God’s project. We participate in God’s work, God’s project, which is the reordering of all patterns of relationship, the breaking down of all walls of division, so that God’s fullness which exceeds anything we can imagine or even comprehend can, in fact, be let loose, unfettered by us and our limited imaginations, our limited understandings of what reconciliation is all about.

Transformation of consciousness

And this means, then, a transformation of consciousness both personally and corporately. A whole change in a way of thinking, a whole different way of seeing, seeing as God sees, is really I think what it’s all about. And we can’t crank ourselves up into that, that’s about conversion, that’s about grace, that’s about allowing something to happen to us, so that mercy and truth and righteousness and peace coalesce, find a home deeply in our hearts. So as we talk about drawing the Episcopal Church more actively into a stance of mission, I think these are some of the things we’re talking about. It’s not a program, though there may be some programmatic aspects quite definitely, but it is a whole question of profound renewal, transformation, conversion and moving in directions yet to be understood and determined.

And all this has to do with God’s desire for the wellbeing and full flourishing of everything. So there’s a passion, there’s a divine passion at the heart of this. This isn’t usefulness or trying to save the Episcopal Church, this is about entering into God’s own passion for the world and being energized by that passion. It’s not a human construct, it’s really a question of a divine intention that lays hold upon us.

It has a number of dimensions. I’ve spent a lot of time with the House of Bishops on this whole notion of reconciliation and reconciliation as the heart of mission, not because bishops are over and apart but it is simply the community I deal with twice a year and obviously, the one I have the closest contact with. And so, we’ve spent a great deal of time looking at the personal, the communal, ecclesial and the global dimensions of reconciliation and mission. It has all those dimensions. We can very easily say, well it ought to be this out there but if it isn’t in here and if it isn’t reflected in the life of the church, what we proclaim for the sake of the world has no authenticity whatsoever.

On the other hand, you don’t spend your entire life trying to fix the interior so that you can confidently go out and do something in the world. It’s amazing how it all sort of works together. Incomplete reconciliation moves out into the world and actually becomes complete by trying to be authentic in the world. So, it’s all interconnected: personal, communal and global for the sake of the world.

Graced confidence

Everywhere I go – and I mean that literally – everywhere I go in the Episcopal Church, I encounter what I will call “graced confidence” as opposed to self-generated pride. Which, of course, we want to avoid. But this sort of graced confidence has about it a sense of, “We have something to proclaim, we have something to share and I needn’t be shy about it.” And I think there was a long period in the life of the church when we were so self-absorbed and unsure that we were sort of delighted and surprised when anyone came near us. And the curious thing is, this doesn’t mean that conflict and tensions have all magically disappeared. No, in a funny way they’re even stronger in some quarters or more passionately entered into and yet, for some reason, they’re not sort of totally taking over the consciousness of the church. And as I move around, I find people engaged in all sorts of mission and outreach and concern for the larger world.

Some of the places I’ve been recently are the dioceses of the Rio Grande, Ohio, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and each place I had, I would say, a substantial encounter with lay people and clergy in an open question and answer or declaration format – because I’ve always said, maybe you just want to tell me something and not ask me anything. In any event, what struck me in all those places was how outward-looking the questions were. I mean, they were not all about the Episcopal Church and this, that and the other thing that’s going on. In one place, I guess it was the Rio Grande, someone asked me about the situation in Rosemont, at which point I began to answer it and someone put up their hand and said, “We don’t know what you’re talking about.” And I said, “Maybe it’s not central to your life, then.” And we went on to things like Iraq, which are a little more pertinent and the Middle East situation and HIV/AIDS in Africa.

And I’m really, I’m so heartened by the world concerns that I’ve encountered again and again in the spontaneous gatherings of people in dioceses. I think this is very, very heartening. It all has to do with how can the church be a sign? How can the church speak in a way that brings change in some of these desperate situations? How can we be in greater solidarity with brothers and sisters in sub-Saharan Africa who are just being decimated by HIV/AIDS? An entire generation is disappearing. And as Stephen Lewis, the Envoy of Kofi Annan for HIV/AIDS in Africa, said to the House of Bishops not long ago in Cleveland, he said, “What you’re seeing in Africa is just the beginning. Do not think for a moment it has reached its peak, it’s just beginning.” And schools are closing because the teachers are all dying and the age group of about 25-40 is just disappearing and there are millions and millions of orphans. So how can we, within our own church, be in greater solidarity with brothers and sisters living with that kind of situation?

Those are some of the questions that people are asking, which I think is so heartening. And again, I think it comes out of a graced confidence which overcomes self-preoccupation.

Priority Funding

Something else I wanted to touch on: We’re in the process of developing a draft budget for the next triennium and I need to tell you that, at this point, we are looking at a shrinkage because of the stock market and the value of the assets of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society have dropped about a third in their total value. Which means, over the next triennium, we have to look at a budget that will be approximately 10 to 12 million dollars more constrained. It’s not a question of shortfalls, that’s not the right word to use here, it’s a question of having to constrict things because of economic realities.

And yet, having said that, I need to tell you that almost two million dollars of what’s being proposed either applied directly to 20/20 energies or some of the priorities that Executive Council has set which are deeply colored by all that you all have done. And I’ll just go over this briefly. Some of the programs that received priority funding are the Young Adult Service Corps, which is part of the next generation concern, diocesan youth coordinators – next generation concern – campus ministries, all those have to do with leadership, which is one of our concerns. Next Generation consultancy for congregational change, which goes into the area of congregational development. New church planting, fresh start and national advertising campaign. These are some of the things being put forward in the light of what you all have helped to develop.

National Identity Campaign

And I say, with respect to the national advertising campaign, yesterday we had this incredibly well done presentation by a canon from Grace Cathedral in San Francisco about their ad project. It really was extremely exciting and I think one of the things that was so interesting about it, and I think we can partner with them rather effectively, and create a national campaign without having to go back to go. But one of the things that was so interesting was that the ads are three-fold in audience: seekers – and we’re very concerned about seekers – but also the ads had a way of helping those who are already part of the community have a fuller sense of what is the Episcopal Church about. So it reinforced a sense of who we are corporately and thirdly, they had immediate application to evangelization. Both in terms of people seeing them, but also in terms of Episcopalians saying, “Oh, that’s what we’re about. We’re that kind of church.” And being able more confidently to speak out of that awareness.

The 20/20 Vision

Looking at the report, I guess Sarah [Lawton] will give the report in a while, but some of the things that come out obviously are strong leadership, and I think probably what we’re doing with the House of Bishops ties in there. How can the bishops become, not simply a community of reaction, but a community of wisdom and exercise a wisdom leadership. That doesn’t mean discounting anything else but a place of reflection, rather than just a place of reacting to things. Spirituality, prayer and worship – very, very central.

I might say with respect to prayer, I’ve seen a lot about “pray for the church.” Yep, pray for the church but also recognize that prayer changes you, which is very important. Because it’s not sort of “I’m praying for something over there and I’ve got it,” because you haven’t. You need conversion, you need a stretching of your own consciousness and so prayer really has to do with the transformation of one’s consciousness so that one has the mind of Christ. Ultimately, that’s what I see prayer is about. As Julian of Norwich says, “Prayer ones us to God.” But not just in some cozy, “Gee, isn’t it nice to be one with God.” It ones us with God in that the consciousness of Christ then becomes our consciousness and we begin to see things in terms of mercy and truth, justness, compassion, those become the lenses through which we look at the world around us and, therefore, they become the energies that spark us and move us to a deeper collaboration in God’s work, in God’s project.

Research – new congregational development. Certainly that is something that we are very much focused on and I think the whole reconfiguring of our ethnic congregational ministries will help in that area, as well, because one of our concerns is the genuine diversity and inclusion of a multiplicity of cultures. And I’d say parenthetically that last Sunday, I was presiding at the Eucharist and baptisms at the Church of San Paulo a Dentro Le Mora – that is, St. Paul’s-within-the-walls in Rome. And I was dealing in Italian, English and Spanish and at the time of the baptisms, I baptized the child of a German couple and the child of a Nigerian couple. And I thought, here we are in Rome, all this incredible international quality and how wonderful that our Episcopal church can say, “Welcome.” And, indeed, it’s a very exciting congregation in many, many ways.

Congregational revitalization – I think of the whole Start Up/Start Over program. Next Generation – we’re working hard on the web, making it seeker friendly so that if you go to the web, you don’t have to use words like “chasuble” in order to find out something, you can use something like “Jesus” and actually get some information. So we’re trying to make it as easy for the seekers to use as possible. And then, of course, to Communication which takes in the web, which takes in advertising, which takes in – particularly because I was just in Italy, I’m aware of it – which takes in the whole question of translation. We are so, so lingua-phobic, if there is such a word. We only deal in English and then sort of, as an afterthought, think of, not just Spanish – I think we have to be a little broader than that – we’ve got all kinds of other languages. In the Diocese of New York and it’s probably true in Los Angeles as well, on Sunday, the liturgy is celebrated in 18 different languages. Now we can’t possibly have 18 different translators associated with 815 but we certainly can be better – much better – about what we’ve done so that our graced confidence can be a gift we share with others.

What do you want me to do?

Let me end with a couple of things more. I sort of imagine someone, to be very concrete about this, someone saying to me, “Ok, Frank Griswold, you know you’ve talked about all this wonderful energy and stuff. Now, I am just a straightforward, down to earth, uncomplicated, uncosmic, unphilosophical Episcopalian – what do you want me to do?” So here are some things that I’ve been thinking of and you’ll probably want to add some on, too.

1. Tell your own faith story.

First of all, tell your own faith story. Now, I remember once in Chicago, a woman came up to me and said, “I just had the most amazing thing happen last week.” I said, “What was that?” She said, “I’ve been working for 27 years in an office next to a colleague with whom we have shared illnesses, the birth of children, divorces, all kinds of things and last week I found out she was an Episcopalian just like me.” And I thought, it’s taken 27 years – they’ve shared all kinds of life events – it’s taken 27 years for this secret, this deep secret, to be revealed. So, share your faith story is rule number one. And that may take some effort to articulate. I think one thing that’s really great, and I had this in several of the parishes I was rector of, was a group of people who came together simply to tell their faith story. And in doing it and in hearing one another’s, they gained a kind of confidence, they found some vocabulary that wasn’t immediately accessible and that allowed them, then, to be proclaimers quite directly.

2. Be welcoming and authentic

The second – and this is very interesting in relationship to what we learned about the Diocese of California advertising campaign – it’s great to say, come to whatever, St. So-and-So’s, but what happens when you get there? I mean, so many places perceive themselves as warm and welcoming and all the rest of it, and there is no capacity even to say hello, let alone draw people into something deeper. So, how do we make congregations, not just places of welcome, but places where people will encounter something authentic, that will make them want to grow with that congregation.

3. Worship

Again, prayer and remember worship is about encounter with Christ. It’s not just how can we make things clever or engaging. As important as those dimensions may be, don’t lose sight of the fact that it’s really about how can people meet the risen Christ through the proclamation of Scripture which means more than reading, it means real proclamation. Through good preaching and through a quality of congregational life and liturgical celebration that speaks directly. So those things are very important. And again, as I say, prayer transforms us. Yes, pray for the Episcopal Church but also allow yourself to be caught up in that prayer and accept the fact that whatever you pray for, God may pull out of you in ways that you aren’t ready for.

4. National Ad Campaign

The national advertising campaign would be a fourth way, I’d say to this hypothetical person. Get your congregation involved in this national advertising campaign and its local manifestation.

5. Give generously for mission

And then I’d say, give generously for mission and here I might say that I’ve talked to a couple of you about a pilot project involving national support for five new starts and we’re working on that. And then, more broadly, continuing discernment of whether or not we should have or in what form we should have a national campaign. Which means, some very careful front end work in terms of discernment and a case, rather than simply rushing off enthusiastically saying we’re going to raise a lot of money. So we’re working on some of those things.

But I also need to say and this has come out of my experience visiting the Church in Nigeria and Brazil – a lot can be done with no money at all. Actually that’s reflected in some of what’s in Sarah’s report. I think sometimes our sense of “are the resources there?” meaning money, limits our imagination. And I was amazed, for example, in Brazil, where there are practically no financial resources; it hasn’t stopped a largely very young clergy and laity from doing amazing things, simply out of their imagination and their own passion. So, yes, we need resources, there’s no doubt about it but I think sometimes we give up too easily when something hasn’t become a line item in a budget. So, you know, let’s think creatively here and I think that’s particularly incumbent upon those of us who are part of the Church Center, particularly with a constricted budget. How can we, in different ways, honor some of the energies and passions and not say, oh well, because we don’t have thus and so, we can’t do a thing.

6. Embody Reconciliation

And then I would say, embody – I mean all this is about embodying in your own life the mystery of reconciliation. Where is your companionship with the risen Christ? That’s an important question. Where are you in terms of the community we belong to, both of the congregation and the diocese and the larger community? Do some reconciliations need to occur? And then move outward and be a sign, a manifestation, of reconciliation in the larger world.

7. Pray for our leadership

The seventh thing I’d say is, please, pray for me and George [Werner] and all who are entrusted with responsibility on behalf of the larger community. Responsibility, in some way, for carrying the vision and, to some degree, determining the shape the work takes and the way in which some of these energies get channeled so that they can be most fruitful.

So those are some musings and I end simply by saying, Glory to God whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we could ask or imagine or we’d be in big trouble. Amen.