RIO GRANDE: Matthew 25 Conference brings diocese together

September 8, 2008

As part of their on-going work of healing and reconciliation, members of the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande recently gathered in Albuquerque, New Mexico for an outreach and mission conference.


Diane Butler, part of the Matthew 25 Conference steering committee, said the energy at the conference held during part of Labor Day weekend was palpable, according to a diocesan report on the conference by Raymond Raney.

The diocese has been engaged in a process of healing and reconciliation since September 2007 when diocesan Bishop Jeffery Steenson announced that he was leaving the Episcopal Church to become a Roman Catholic. The Rt. Rev. William C. Frey, retired bishop of the Diocese of Colorado, is serving Rio Grande as assisting bishop. The Rio Grande diocese consists of approximately 14,800 Episcopalians in 58 congregations in New Mexico and the Big Bend area of west Texas.

The conference's aim was to bring together congregations from throughout the diocese to focus on the call of Matthew 25:31-46 to reach out and care for those in need, Raney reported.

"Our desire was to use Matthew 25 as a way of focusing our efforts and emphasizing our mutual efforts in outreach as a vehicle for reconciliation and unity in a church that is often divided," said the Rev. Brian Taylor, rector of St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church, Albuquerque, who convened the steering committee.

The total of persons from 25 of the diocese's 56 congregations gathered at the Cathedral Church of St. John in Albuquerque for the conference was about double the typical response for a diocesan event, according to Lisa Katz-Ricker, diocesan business manager.

In his sermon, the Rev. Mike Kinman, executive director of Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation, described Jesus' call in Matthew 25 as "a call for liberation."

"Not just the kind you might think," Kinman continued. "Yes, it's a call for us to be deeply involved in the liberation of people from the bonds of extreme poverty. But more than that, it's a call for us to meet at the cross and be liberated from all we grasp so tightly."

During his keynote address, Kinman said that working to achieve the Millennium Development Goals can give the church a way to unite in mission rather than divide over differences.

"The MDGs are an opportunity for us not just to break outside the comfortable living room walls that hem us in but to break through all the other barriers that separate us one from another," he said. "Barriers of black and white, male and female, conservative and liberal, rich and poor, educated and illiterate, well-fed and hungry, powerful and powerless, even -- what's the latest thing we're calling the different sides in the church -- reappraisers and reasserters? I'm not even sure I know which is which, but it doesn't matter because where Christ is calling us through these goals is to break through those barriers and embrace a common mission of healing that leads us all to the same place and that place is the cross of Christ."

In addition to exhibits on outreach ministries conducted in the diocese, the conference offered workshops prison ministry, effective mission trips, moving outreach committees beyond grant-making to participatory outreach, engaging youth in outreach, and ministering to the hungry and the unseen poor. One workshop looked at how to get involved with Episcopal Relief and Development.