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The 234th Convention of the Diocese of New York
The Cathedral of St. John the Divine
November 13, 2010
Full text is below videos
Good morning. I am delighted to welcome you at this 234th Convention of the Diocese of New York.
As in years past I want to recall to our attention the fundamental truth that grounds everything we do, “Nothing will happen here today that is not of interest to Christ.”
Again, as has been my custom, I want to open these remarks by offering a word of thanks to those who have worked so hard to make certain that these hours together in Convention are as fruitful as possible. In particular I want to highlight the contribution and efforts of our Secretary of Convention, James Forde, the Assistant Secretaries of Convention and the members of the Convention Planning Committee. In addition I offer special thanks to Sara Saavedra for her care and attention in organizing this large and complicated event.
Happily the number of folks we have had to say “Goodbye” to this year is much reduced from 2009. Nevertheless this year like every year brings both departures and arrivals. Earlier in the year John Merz resigned as Chaplain at NYU to pursue parish ministry. Later this fall Carol O’Neale will leave her position as Controller to explore other opportunities. Though, as Executive Director of Episcopal Social Services, Robert Gutheil is not on the Diocesan staff, yet his retirement from that important work is matters to us all. I am happy to say that a fine new Executive Director in the person of Elizabeth McCarthy will begin her duties December 15th.
However, as is almost always the case, the sadness of these goodbyes is somewhat mitigated by the opportunity to welcome new faces. I am very pleased to welcome Paul Ainslie the new chairman of the Diocesan Investment Trust who succeeds David Wilmot. The work of our Chancellor George Wade, has been strengthened by the addition of Raymond Vandenberg who joins Alice Yurke as Vice-Chancellor, in shouldering that important and demanding role in our common life.
In addition to these extraordinarily important volunteer positions I am pleased to say that we have been able to fill two other crucial staff positions. First I am delighted to say that William Parnell has joined our staff as Archdeacon. Archdeacon Parnell comes to us after serving for many years in a highly imaginative ministry in Christ Church, Hackensack, New Jersey. And very happily indeed, with the permission of the Standing Committee I was able to persuade Bishop Drew Smith, retired Bishop of Connecticut, to join us as part-time Assistant Bishop. He will serve the diocese at approximately ¼ time; visiting parishes on weekends and assisting in our ministry wherever needed.
Let us Welcome Archdeacon Parnell and Bishop Smith.
As we all know so well this has been a year of extremely tight fiscal constraints all around. The budget you will shortly consider reflects a very careful and thorough look at what we are doing, and how well we are doing it. I have no doubt that every parish in the Diocese has taken much the same view as they have developed their own budgets. This is certainly a time to husband our resources to work together with an ever deeper sense of our collaboration in mission.
In the midst of all of our anxieties around budget issues; as we rightly consider ways in which we can do things more effectively and efficiently, and while we treasure the absolutely crucial contribution that volunteers make to the life of the church, yet let us never lose sight of the sacrifice made by those clergy and lay-people who serve the church professionally. This is as true for the staff of the parishes of this Diocese as it has been for the Diocesan staff who serves you so faithfully. As St. Paul says, “I give thanks for you daily.”
It is terribly important that we not allow difficult economic times to cloud our vision as to the many good things that are going on in the Diocese. For example Episcopal Charities continues its wonderful work. Through it all they have been able to maintain their giving level to support the ministry of congregations of this diocese. This year, they have supported 80 programs for a total of $700,000. This is a grand total of $9.2Million since their founding just 14 years ago.
Annual giving to congregations has increased. Over the last ten years total pledging has increased 41% and average pledges 50%. For the last five years, reflecting the high point in the economy to the present, pledging has still increased by 10%.
Since our last Convention, our congregations have made many important transitions. 17 congregations have completed calls to clergy as rectors, priests in charge, or vicars. Interims have been called in two parishes and assistants or associates have been called in nine congregations. 82 people are currently at various stages in our ordination process. Over half our congregations have mission partners of one sort or the other. There was a pilgrimage to Tanzania this past year, one of nearly a dozen such trips to Tanzania, South Africa and India, over the past decade or so.
We have four missionaries serving fulltime in various over-seas programs. I am pleased to say that two of them, Elizabeth Boe and Oge Beauvoir are with us today. Elizabeth has served a two year term in the Diocese of Central Tanganyika working exclusively with the Carpenters’ Kids Program. As so many of you will know this is a remarkable program involving 91 of our congregations and supporting 4,675 children in Tanzania through this highly effective ministry. Oge, has served, and continues to serve, as Dean of the Seminary in Haiti, since 2005. Thank you Elizabeth and Oge, for all that you do, and have done.
And closer to home, the All Our Children program, an initiative in support of public education through direct service, advocacy and teacher support, which we adopted at our convention in 2007, has resulted in 21 church and school partnerships involving hundreds of children and many adult volunteers. This is, of course, in addition to the many children’s programs supported with the help of Episcopal Charities. What’s more the All Our Children initiative has received national endorsement by General Convention in 2009 and by the Union of Black Episcopalians. This is an initiative whose influence continues to spread.
All of this in addition to the nearly 20,000 people who gather Sunday by Sunday, in the congregations of this Diocese, to worship Almighty God. Now that my friends is an awful lot of good news!
As it ought, this vitality pushes us outward, it opens us to the other; that openness is widely recognized, and with that recognition comes responsibility.
We addressed one dimension of that openness to larger issues at last spring’s Priests’ Conference. We considered, yet once again, how we might properly exercise our responsibility in the care of God creation. Happily this diocese has a long tradition of facing into environmental concerns and helping people learn how to do something more than wring their hands in anxiety. I am pleased to say that the Cathedral has had a particularly sharp focus on this issue. Even now we are in the midst of a multi year series on water. I hope that in the year to come we will be able to expand and sharpen this important focus.
A further consequence of our Diocese’s openness to larger concerns was the invitation that we received from the Anglican Consultative Council to participate in what is called the Continuing Indaba Process. We are one of 18 dioceses across the Communion, one of only three from the United States, chosen to participate in continuing conversations based upon the pattern developed at the Lambeth Conference of 2008. Joanna Schafer is organizing that program for the Diocese, and it is coming along nicely. We can expect that in 2011 our eight person delegation will spend two weeks getting to know the people and work of the dioceses of Derby in England as well as Delhi and Mumbai in India. We are pleased and looking forward to a week-long visit from representatives of those dioceses here on our own home turf. I should note that all expenses associated with this program are being paid from a generous grant that was made to the Anglican Consultative Council.
We are privileged to have this work going on while, at the same time, we as a diocese engage in a careful and prayer examination of the proposed Anglican Covenant. To further that effort I plan to draw together a Covenant Study Task Force to work with the congregations of the Diocese to do at least two things: first to figure out how best to utilize the materials that have been presented to help us understand what the Covenant proposes, and second to design a useful way to gather the results of our reflection in a form that will be accessible to the Anglican Consultative Council, the Executive Council and, most especially, the deputations that will go to General Convention in 2012.
An important part of this reaching out is, in a very real sense, reaching in. We are called to be mindful of our brothers and sisters in Haiti. The earthquake that struck Haiti with such devastating power has consequences that are still very much with us. Though progress has been made it has been painfully slow. With no intention of completely exonerating the government of Haiti of any responsibility for this delay, there can be little doubt that the primary culprit has been the nearly complete destruction of the nation’s infrastructure. At the time of the earthquake the people of this diocese reached out with typical generosity. As you will have noted the collection from this morning’s offering will go to Haiti, but more is needed. The Executive Council of the National Church has committed to raising $10 million to help rebuild the Diocese of Haiti, with a special focus on their cathedral. I plan to appoint a Task Force to help think through, and plan through, the best way to engage the Diocese of New York in that national effort.
Thinking of Haiti naturally enough brings to mind the whole matter of immigration. I hope that you have all had a chance to read the statement that the House of Bishop issued at its September meeting in Arizona. It was, I thought, a good and balanced statement. On a somewhat more personal note I took the opportunity provided by the Diocese of Arizona to spend several days on the border itself. As our letter made clear the situation is complex, and simple answers will not suffice. However, the “on-the-ground” picture one comes away with is one of stark disbelief. I am convinced that this situation, and the complex of policies that have fostered it will, one day, cause the American people to look back on this episode in our history with the revulsion and horror that we now feel when we consider chattel slavery, the exploitation of Chinese labor to build our railroads, or the incarceration of Japanese American in concentrations camps during World War II. Ironically enough some of those camps were in those very same Arizona deserts where men, women and children died by the thousands.
Thoughts of the Arizona desert inevitably brings to mind other deserts half a world away where men and women continue to sacrifice and die in a series of wars of such duration and so hidden from sight that they have become, simply, part of the daily noise we all become so accustomed to. This is so much the case that the recent political campaigns seemed to find little reason even to mention them. But we, however, must never forget. We must never forget the men and women who have made such sacrifice. Above all we must never forget those who have returned from that conflict wounded in body and mind. We must always work for and pray for that peace for which all people of good will yearn so deeply.
Though we may not spend much time consciously thinking about that war, I have no doubt that it has found its way into the America psyche. How could it not but foster a deep seated anxiety. It so easily gives rise to xenophobia. It probably plays into our irrational response to immigrants across our borders, and it contributes to an irrational fear of Islam.
Nothing could symbolize that irrational fear more than the choreographed uproar that was generated around the proposed Islamic Center at Park 51. I found it fascinating that among the most outspoken critics, few were actually New Yorkers. Though we New Yorkers are rarely of one mind on anything, the view is pretty widely held that it is the pluralism of New York that make it the great state and city that it is. It was in that spirit that I was asked to represent the Diocese of New York, and indeed the Episcopal Church, as a part of an interfaith consultation that met in Washington, D.C., in early September.
In that spirit of dialogue and inquiry I have asked Imam Mohamad Bashar Arafat to address us later in the day in order to help us understand more clearly some of the insights and values that Islam and Christianity hold in common.
All in all this has been an eventful year. One important but unanticipated outcome of the financial crisis has struck especially close to home. The General Theological Seminary, one of the most venerable Episcopal Church institutions in this Diocese, an institution of broad importance to the entire Episcopal Church, has come perilously close to bankruptcy. A new interim President and an interim Dean have been recruited to address crucially important and nearly over-whelming financial challenges. As a part of that general turn-around effort I was asked to serve as Chairman of the Board. Though that is not something I ever anticipated, never-the-less I felt I could not ignore such a request at a pivotal moment in the life of seminary to which I personally, and so many others, owe so very much.
This leads me to speak of other transitions. I believe that the time has come in the life of the Diocese to look further along the journey that stretches so promisingly before us, further than I can travel with you. Therefore, I am formally calling for a special convention to be held in this Cathedral Church on October 29, 2011 to elect a person to serve a Bishop Co-Adjutor of New York: that person, upon my retirement, to serve as the 16th Bishop of New York. Note carefully, I said, “Upon my retirement.” In the meanwhile I am not going anywhere. If, as the Canon requires, you adopt a budget for the search committee, the process can begin. But remember these election cycles take several years to complete. I have every intention of being your Bishop and serving with all the energy and wisdom and faithfulness that, by God’s grace, I can muster.
Let us now turn to the work that God has given us to do.