Select Page

Bishop Dietsche's 2017 Convention Address Saturday, November 11, 2017

Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine

Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

It is a joy to welcome you to this 241st Convention of the Diocese of New York, my fifth as your bishop, and as always it is a moving and wonderful  thing to see our diocese of 200 parishes, from  the three very  different  boroughs  of  New  York  City  - the Bronx, Staten  Island  and Manhattan  -  to  the  vast  upstate  country  that  runs  through  the  suburbs  and  exurbs  of Westchester and Rockland through the mountains and forests of Putnam, through the farms and small towns of Dutchess and Orange and Ulster, through  the more remote mountain congregations of Sullivan.   And  through  it all runs the majestic Hudson River, with  its long vistas and historic river cities, and the rolling  Catskill Mountains full of bears and eagles. And everywhere you will  find the Episcopal Church:  keeping the faith, making our witness to the love of God for all people through our Lord Jesus Christ, ministering to the people of God, and continuing to carry the precious light of these blessings down through the generations. Trying. Doing our best. Saying our prayers.

*****

Four days ago, Bishop Mary Glasspool and I returned to New York from visiting the Diocese of Central Tanganyika.   This was our  first visit.   We have in  this diocese and our  parishes a multitude of amazing mission ventures, but we all know that the most significant mission partnership  which  the diocese itself has had in a very long time was the Carpenter ’s Kids program jointly created by Cathy Roskam, our former Bishop Suffragan, and Mdimi Mohogolo, the former Bishop of Central Tanganyika.  It moved me deeply to be in Dodoma last week and see a picture of our own dear Cathy next to a picture of Mdimi celebrating this important work. About  the time that I was coming on board as bishop, Bishop Mdimi advised us that that program as it existed was coming to the end of its course and it was time to sunset it.  Which we did.   We asked parishes to honor their existing commitments to the children, but we did not look to establish new links.  So shortly after I came into this office Mdimi came to see me and asked me to come to Central Tanganyika.  Let’s look together at the future.  I said I would, but that I would plan that visit to coincide with the celebration of his coming retirement.  And then in the providence of God, quite tragically, instead of retiring,  Mdimi died.  It was one of the great privileges and honors of my life to stand at the great man’s grave last week beside their cathedral, and pray my respects.

It was, however, my hope that we would be able to find with the new bishop a path forward to continue our mission partnership.   What we had had been so good.  And  most importantly, through  Carpenter ’s Kids  we had built  and strengthened important  personal relationships between people in the villages of Central Tanganyika and people in the parishes of New York.  I felt strongly that those relationships could be the foundation for whatever was next to come. So in 2014 their diocese elected Dickson Chilongani to be the sixth Bishop of Central Tanganyika, and after a bit he found himself in America and came to see me. Over the next couple years we spent three significant meetings together, all of them here in New York, some coinciding with family trips to settle their son Idimi into his studies upstate at Cornell.  The final meeting took place here in the Spring, and I asked Bishop Mary now to join me in these conversations,  as she had come aboard now and been given oversight of our missions portfolio.   Dickson told us we needed to come and see with our own eyes, and we said yes.

What we had been learning from Dickson over these several years was that his own vision for the diocese had everything to do with sustainability:  agricultural  and environmental.  And all of his first work as bishop has been in support of this.  The traditional  base crop of the farmer in central Tanzania was millet.  It grows well in a semi-arid climate, it provides food for the farmer and a reliable cash crop. However, beginning some decades ago, western agricultural  interests came to Tanzania and convinced the farmers to grow corn, or maize, instead. Which they did.  I guess everybody likes corn better than millet to eat, and it was a lucrative crop when sold, but it is not sustainable in that area. It requires far too much water, and so the time since then has been one of regular crop failures.  Dickson, a farmer himself, has planted demonstration acres in a variety of forms of millet to teach farmers again what their grandfathers knew:  how to grow millet, but also now how to employ good conservation principles like no-till farming and drip irrigation.   More millet and less corn is key to the bishop’s vision of agricultural  sustainability for the villages.

His second focus has been on reforestation.  On the sides of mountains you see vast swaths of bare land where every tree has been removed, all of it secretly, illegally,  and under cover of night.  Pretty much everything that can be burned is being cut down and turned into charcoal. One night we returned to Dodoma late and in the dark, and all along the highway  we would see shadowy figures emerge from the darkness ahead of us and slip past us like ghosts as we sped by.  Men on bicycles and motorcycles, with four, five or six twenty-or-thirty gallon bags of charcoal loaded on their backs and bikes, smuggling them into the city to sell in the markets. One after another after another. But Dickson said that the villagers do not understand the tree- to-cloud  connection in the making  of rain.   They don’t  know  that water moves in a sky-to- ground-to-sky loop and that trees are critical to that.  So the rain has stopped. And a semi-arid land is becoming drier.  Now Dickson has asked every village to plant 100 trees. Environmental sustainability.  I was talking one day with Canon Hilda Kabia, Principal of Msalato Theological College, about a trip she made to America and New York.  What most interested you, I asked. Wistfully, wonderingly, she said, “…so many trees.” Yes. So many trees, and so few.

And  then there was a third  piece.  Ibihwa  Vocational School.   Through Carpenter ’s Kids we gave good primary  school educations to over seven thousand children.   Many of them have gone on to secondary school, and many are on their way to university.   But there is a large group of students whom we committed to and provided  for, but in the end could not get high enough test scores to get into secondary school. For them there was nothing but to return to the villages with  no prospects. Ibihwa Vocational School was created to provide good training  in skills that have proven market value.  For girls there is tailoring, and for boys metal and wood working.  And they can point to students who had good foundations through Carpenter ’s Kids, came through  Ibihwa,  and now  have shops and businesses in Dar es Salaam  and Dodoma. Successes.   They also provide  good theological education in  Swahili  for  the training  of lay catechists on whom  the church in Tanganyika depends even more than on their clergy.  For confirmation education, for weddings and funerals, for pastoral care. Bishop Dickson asked us back in the spring for some help right now for Ibihwa, which we were able to put together.

So when we left for Central Tanganyika it was with  a check in hand for the school, and with readiness to  see how  this  very  large vision  of  sustainability  could  be  shaped  for  our participation.   Oh my God what a beautiful country.  It combines majestic natural beauty with what may be the best people in the world.   And  coursing through  this natural bounty is the Anglican Church, the Diocese of Central Tanganyika, with 265 parishes and 700,000 people. On our second day in the diocese we were at Ibihwa, and began making the connections. Here was where the children  from  Carpenter ’s Kids  were moving  on into  higher  training  and being equipped to support the future  sustainability of their villages.  We saw them and met them. Our own mission kids all grown up.  The school has a good farm, operating on a shoestring, but using the best modern agricultural principles of environmental conservation. Here the students are trained and educated, and farmers from villages are brought in to be taught and formed, that they may become the teachers of others back home.   There was nothing  about Ibihwa Vocational School that we didn’t love.

Two days later we sat in a round table discussion with  church leaders and academics to talk about what a mission program of sustainable development might look like.  And we began to see a  form  of  partnership  take  shape that  would   definitely   include strong  New  York involvement  with  Ibihwa,  but  be really  centered on parish-to-village  partnerships, growing from  the existing Carpenter ’s Kids friendships,  but built  now  around  specific sustainability packages.  These packages would  include  four components:   the re-introduction   of  millet farming  - agricultural  sustainability.   The planting  of 100 mango trees - environmental sustainability.   The planting  of five acres of grape vines - economic sustainability.   And  the training of farmers in principles of conservation farming.

Bishop Mary and I are convinced that this is the next natural step from Carpenter ’s Kids -  it is evolution - and represents a broad and far-reaching vision for our own mission purposes and for Tanganyika and its villages.  I’ve spent a lot of time this morning  talking  about this, and there is a reason for that.   Following  this convention we will  be looking  to form  a steering committee of people who may see a calling or a passion for this work, to come together to work out the model of how this mission partnership might be structured and what would be asked of partner  churches.   To name it.    To give  substance to  an idea, and then to  go to  Central Tanganyika in late winter or early spring, with invitations  to parishes to commit by summer or fall.   We think  we can launch this second chapter of Carpenter ’s Kids in 2018.  God richly blessed Carpenter ’s Kids and seven thousand children, and we got blessed too hallelujah.  And we believe we’re ready to do that again. Time to get excited about mission.

*****

We are going to have a deficit budget. Don’t get excited about that. In late August I was still on vacation up in the Catskill Mountains and was asked to join a conference call with the chairs of our budget and finance committees and the principals of our business office. And they laid out for me the very bad news that we were facing what appeared at the time to be a crippling  deficit for at least two  years.  I remember that I was hearing projections like “more  than a million dollars.”   That woke me right  up.   Over the next hour or two they laid out the background behind the deficit.  A big piece of it was not news.  There were some financial deficits rolling over into this year that were known and understood.  There were also mistakes. I had asked for a twenty thousand dollar line item and everyone had heard it as two hundred thousand dollars. Which I guess maybe I had said, but it sure wasn’t what I meant.  That was an easy fix.  But beyond that were hundreds of thousands of dollars of deficit spending that we didn’t  at that time understand.

We were also aware that our own canons require the publication of the budget so far before the convention that the deadline was looming and we could not possibly meet it.  So instead of a budget, Diocesan Council and Diocesan Trustees got letters instead explaining that we weren’t prepared with a budget yet. We hated doing that. But we were absolutely committed to having a budget in your hands before you arrived here today.  From that late summer phone call some very hard, difficult and important work was done by some exceptional people.

And  here I want  to stop and name them.   Father Matthew  Mead has chaired our  Budget Committee now for a number of years. He is excellent, as you know, from receiving his reports each year at this convention.  Mr. Bill Wright, a member of Saint Thomas Church and the Trinity Wall Street Vestry, chairs our Finance Committee.  An extraordinarily adept person of wisdom and insight and a rich sense of humor.  One of the provisions of the Strategic Plan now has each of them serving on the other ’s committee, and that partnership  and transparency between budget  and finance is part  of what  allowed  problems to be seen this  year that  might  not otherwise  have been.  George Wade has served as Chancellor to three bishops and is out interpreter of the Constitution  and Canons of the Episcopal Church.  Sister Faith Margaret has been Treasurer of this diocese for some years, and is attentive and scrupulous and when she needs to she holds our feet to the fire.  I introduced Esslie Hughes at this convention last year, as our new Chief of Operations and Finance. Since then she has assembled a tremendous team around her.  Both the offices of Controller  and Accounting  Manager had become vacant, and they were filled in the last year by Masiel Jordan and Karin Almquist,  respectively, and I would like to introduce them now, if they will  rise. [  • • • ]  And now if all you who I have named will  rise and be recognized. [ • • • ]

Thank you.  In the short time that this team has been working  together it has become manifestly clear that we may have a staff in the business office second to none in our history.   These are consummate professionals, people of good humor,  hard workers, and they love the Church. Over the weeks that followed what I now think of as “the conference call from hell,” this group began to dissect the deficit and the underlying  problems that created it.  I also asked those with oversight of committees and commissions that have budget lines to make every possible reduction in those lines for 2018, and in all places where we can, to continue at 2017 levels. And they did.   And then Father Mead went away with  a cleaver in one hand and a scalpel in the other, and came back to us with a budget very much like the one you have been given.  We still have a deficit.  It is not sustainable in the long term, but it is now of a size which we can manage in the short term.

Good new tools and processes put in place following the passage of the Strategic Plan last year have created transparencies that have brought to light problems, some of which are decades and decades old, and which must now be dealt with,  and are feeding this deficit.  This is a short term problem, and as much as we don’t like it, it is actually good news.  We’re fixing  stuff.  I want to add that there is no one to blame, certainly not the good people who have been in these offices before.   In  a system which  is both as very, very  old  as ours and as very  complex, problems, redundancies and blind alleys can make their way into the system and stay hidden there for  a very  long time.   The whole  point  of the strategic plan was to shine God’s big flashlight on the system and see what we could see. We saw dust bunnies between the lines.

This afternoon the budget resolutions will  be presented, and there will  be opportunity to ask any question you may have about the budget and about the deficit and about the budget cuts which were necessary to get this before you.  But when you do, please remember that you are looking  at the fruit  of  an astonishing  amount  of  good  and faithful  work  by  people who understand the sacrifices that this budget will  mean across our life and program.  So I commend it to you.  Please pass it, so that we can put it in the hands of the trustees and begin our work of correcting the structures behind this document.

*****

There is something else that must be said. I am not going to belabor it, but it must be said. This deficit is dwarfed by the amount of unpaid apportioned share by churches that are not paying their share at all, or are paying it only partly.  Our budget and finance committees have come to the conclusion that they consider our apportioned  share formulas to be fair, and comparison with  other dioceses of our size and even smaller bear that out.  And  you did establish these formulas in this very room in convention.  Yet ever since I became bishop I have heard nothing but assessment, assessment, assessment. I’m sort of done with  that.  No other diocese that I have found has the record of nonpayment or of arrearage that we do.  Very hard work has been done to reduce this deficit;  what remains is a self-inflicted wound.

*****

Last year at convention we unanimously passed the Strategic Plan, and I want to give a report of where we are in implementing  the plan.  It had been my intention  to inaugurate in 2017 a diocesan-wide visioning process as the third phase of the plan, but we have had to move that a bit farther along as we addressed other mandates in that quarter-inch-thick  book that we voted on.

I’ve already referenced the ways in which  the Plan has brought  new vision and attention to areas of our finances that needed it.   The deficit  may be an unintended  consequence of the Strategic Plan, but understand that that is absolutely what it is.

One of the most discussed elements of the plan  was the new  canon regarding  vulnerable congregations.    In  the  first  year  I  made the  specific decision  not  to  invoke  that  canon unilaterally.   Rather, we waited to see how parishes might respond to the possibilities inherent in the canon. Almost at once the Church of the Mediator in the Northwest  Bronx came to us and asked for designation as a vulnerable congregation.  The study team was formed and sent in to work with the parish, and ultimately  a report and recommendations were sent to me and to my office. This was a wonderful  process, received as respectful and loving by the parish, and laying the groundwork for the work  to come.  That work  won’t  be easy, but we are partners with  that church now in a new way, and I think  they at least have discovered that they don’t need to be afraid to say, “we’re  vulnerable.”   Since then another church has come to us and asked for the same intervention.  Bwana Asifiwe!  Praise Jesus.

There are other churches which clearly qualified  as vulnerable congregations where we have begun fruitful partnerships in restructuring  for health and sustainability, but without  invoking the canon. In the end we were able to get the good conversations and work done without  going through the processes dictated by the canon, though interestingly I think it was the existence of the canon that changed the tone of conversation for the better.

In the coming year I will  be reaching out quite a bit more intentionally  to churches which are chronically  unable to pay their Apportioned Share or chronically  unable to pay the cost of a priest, to engage the deep conversations about strength and vulnerability.  About viability and vitality.   About health.  And sometimes about life and death.  And to ask together the difficult questions that those issues raise.

The substantial work of the Congregations Task Force of the Strategic Plan is way out there in the diocese. Open Doors is in its second printing  in a revised edition, and Bishops Shin and Glasspool and I are regularly  bringing  this into our vestry meetings at visitations.   In many ways it is that task force whose work touches most directly on the lives of your churches, and which we use most immediately  in our work.   The marks of a healthy congregation, both for viability and for  vitality,  established and articulated  by the Strategic  Plan, are shaping the outline for our work everywhere. You are going to hear more from Bishop Shin a bit later about the congregational development component of the Plan and the fruit of it over this last year.

The Plan also required certain structural requirements of the Bishop and Bishop’s Staff.  In 2017 we have done a tremendous amount of work developing a chart of reporting and accountability for the staff, which includes understandable, transparent lines of supervision and evaluation. Our principal Internal resource for this work has been Chontel Simmons, our Human Resources Director.  All job descriptions have been rewritten  with employees working  together with their supervisors. You asked us to do this.  It has taken time.  But the fruits of it are excellent, needed and ultimately  I believe will  be transformative.  We are also finalizing  an exhaustive Employee Handbook.  These structural reforms were the places where the Strategic Plan put immediate demands on me and my staff and we have been happy to comply.  And we’ve been blessed by it.  Some of this work will  always remain as internal documents, but we intend as soon as we are ready to make this work available as models for parishes as well.  And remember that part of Chontel’s time is paid by the diocesan budget to make her available to you in your parishes. She herself is a response to an expectation of the Strategic Plan.

Thank you for passing the Plan. A year later it’s already making a difference.

*****

A week ago yesterday Bishop Glasspool and I visited the Hombolo Leprosy Hospital in Central Tanganyika, and then went to the nearby village of Zepisa.  We were taken into a small rectangular hut and shown to a couple of rows of benches. Before us twenty five people from the village were arrayed in a circle of chairs, facing one another.  At one end were five people together behind a low table and on the table was a heavy aluminum  box secured with  three padlocks.  Lister Nyanganyi, Director of Development for the Diocese of Central Tanganyika, came and sat beside Mary and me, and as things began to happen he explained what we were seeing.

At some signal three people got up from their chairs and went to the aluminum  box.  They are the bearers of the keys, and each of them unlocked their lock and returned to their places. Then one of the five people on the bench, the woman closest to our end, opened the box and removed two bowls, one red and one green. She placed the red bowl to the left of the box and the green bowl  to the right.   Lister  said, “the red bowl  is for  paying  fines and the green bowl  for counting.”    Mary  asked, “what  kind  of things could someone be fined foe?”   And  he said, “being late for this meeting, for example.”   Then she removed a stack of small yellow  paper folders. Lister said, “those are the passbooks.” And we understood:  this is a finance meeting.

Each passbook has a number on the front, and that number corresponds to where you sit in the circle.  Everyone must sit in the same place in the circle every time, with  the same person to their left and the same person to their right, and I realized that in a very literal sense, the order of their chair in the circle is their bank account number.

Then an older woman sitting by the green bowl asked for their contributions to the social fund. The social fund provides for grants to those in emergencies. Sickness, or the death of a family member. One by one, in order, around the circle, each person came forward, holding the money for their contribution above their head where it could be seen by everyone, stated the amount of the contribution,  and put the money in the green bowl.   Then they were given their yellow passbook and returned to their chair.  When everyone had made their contribution, the woman who sits by the bowl  and the man who sits by her counted the money and announced the amount of the contributions.   Last Friday it was 4800 Tazmanian shillings, which is about two dollars and fifty  cents. That amount was announced out loud and everyone was expected to hear it and memorize it.   That same number will  be announced at the beginning of the next meeting.  In a mostly non-literate community,  this is the equivalent of reconciling the ending and beginning balances on a spread sheet.

There was stone silence in the room for all of this.  No babies cried.  No chair scraped.  The villagers were singularly  focused on every step of what was happening, and Mary and I too were riveted by what we were seeing. Bishop Chilongani, seated at the other side of me, and said that even he had never seen this process before.

One of the people behind the table asked if there were any social needs, but there were none that day.  So then they went around the circle again, and people came up one at a time to make deposits, or rather, to buy shares in the corporation.  He or she would come forward, holding up

their money so everyone could see it, and declare out loud how many shares they were buying, and put the money in the green bowl. Then they would turn in their passbook and watch while the woman who had given it to them made the appropriate notations in their passbook. I got to examine one.  The inside of the passbook was covered in a grid of boxes. When they bought shares, the woman had a blue rubber stamp shaped like an arrow, and stamped that in the boxes on the grid once for each share purchased. The person whose passbook I examined had built  up twenty  shares over time.  Four rows of five stamps.  When everyone who wanted to buy shares had done so, and all the passbooks were gathered in, the money in the green bowl was counted and it was announced that 90,000 shillings had been deposited.  About forty five dollars.

It  was asked whether  anyone wanted  to apply  for  a loan - generally for  farming  or for  a business - but there weren’t any loan applications on that day.  So the red bowl and the green bowl, and the red bag of money, and the yellow passbooks and the blue rubber stamp, and their small brown ledger all went back into the silver aluminum box in the sight of everyone, and the three keyholders came forward and locked the box. The box will  be taken away by someone in the group, hidden inside something else, and it will  be kept at someone’s house and no one will know who. And I watched all this, and thought, “I get it.  It’s a Credit  Union.”

When it was over Bishop Chilongani asked if I wanted to say anything to the people and I told them that I loved the trust they had in one another, and I loved their willingness to invest in one another and make each other strong. And then I went around the circle and shook everybody’s hand. Everybody All Together, Everybody Being One. This is how communities make financial strength together so that people have refuge and help in emergencies, and so that they have access to loans and economic opportunity.  It is how people can be be brave together, and how we make whole those who have the least.

Several years ago we passed a resolution at this convention to establish a diocesan credit union. And  each year since then we have had a report  on the progress of that  work.    Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise but it turns out it’s complicated to start a bank.  But we’ve capitalized the Credit Union, and we have obtained the charter, and you will  hear a report a bit later this morning.

You will  also receive today a colorful  brochure about the Credit Union, and a pledge card for committing  to future  deposits.   I  remind you  that  your  money in  this  Credit  Union  is as protected and as fully  federally insured as it would  be in any bank, and by our bringing  our strength together we have it in our hands to offer those ordinary  banking services that most of us take for granted to the poorest people in our diocese. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will  your heart be also.”  What if we could get our treasure right up next to the Gospel? And do well by doing good?  I saw Jesus in the quiet transactions in that room in Zepisa. May we see Jesus in the work we do here today.

*****

I am sorry that Dan Daniel, the Interim  Dean of this Cathedral, is not with  us today.  He has been called away to North Carolina for a family emergency, and I ask your prayers for him and for his family.  Let me simply say that after the resignation of Dean Kowalski earlier this year, I asked Dan to come and serve as the Interim  until the election of a new dean, which  should occur in the coming year.  Dan is a person of strength and character, of humor and profound faith, and as the former Bishop of East Carolina and of Pennsylvania, a person of consummate experience. He is my friend and I love him, and I believe he has been received by this cathedral community in exactly that same way.

Though he is not here I do want to thank him for the hospitality of this cathedral in hosting our convention  this  year, and  to  thank  the clergy  of  this  great church  for  their  assistance in preparing  for  the holy  eucharist.   it  is always a joy to be home in  our  mother  church for convention.

And may I at this point also recognize the service over thirty  nine years and forty conventions of  Mr.  Sanders  Davies as Inspector of Elections.   He has overseen our  balloting  at every convention at least since the end of the seventies, and counted the ballots for the elections of Bishops Grein, Sisk,  Dietsche, Roskam and Shin.       He has also overseen our  transition  to electronic voting.   He is a wonderful  human being too, warm  and funny,  and a dedicated churchman.  Today is his last convention with us, however.  So to Sandy I extend the profound thanks of this convention, all our love and respect, and our blessing on the new roads that lie before you.  Sandy, will  you stand and be recognized. [ • • • ]

If  you  wander  the Cathedral Close today  you  will  find  an exhibition  in  the circular  patio surrounding   the  Peace Statue  entitled Harvest  Without   Violence.    The  exhibition   is  in partnership with  the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which advocates in Florida for migrant workers even as Rural and Migrant Ministries does here in New York.  I am not going to speak at any length about that now, but I commend the exhibition to you so that this convention may receive a resolution, rising from my address, regarding this organization and the workers.  That resolution,  with   accompanying  history   and  explanation,  will   come  to  you  immediately following this address.

*****

The killing of the nine martyrs in Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston two years ago was so horrible, so upsetting, such an affront to dignity  and worth and to God, that it seemed we must be seeing the far reach of racist violence and ugliness in America.  It seemed that the upsurge in racial hatred and the obliteration  of the lives of black people in America which had been our daily  bread month  after month  after month  must have reached its apogee.  Still,  who  was prepared for what we witnessed in Charlottesville  this summer? There, in our day, after the long hard history through which we have come as a people and a Church, were the American Nazi Party and the Ku Klux  Klan, armed and armored, marching unabashed in a significant American city.   “Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?”  Something dangerous and plainly evil has been unleashed in America, and it is not clear yet how we are going to pull it back in.  At the very least we discover that we are still fighting the Civil War in America.  Still fighting  the Civil War.  As one Southerner, William  Faulkner, famously said, “The past is not dead; in fact, it is not even past.”

In the face of these movements the work of the Reparations Committee of the diocese has never been more urgent.  Today they will offer a resolution to inaugurate a Year of Lamentation across the churches of New York.  You will  receive today a calendar of the events that will  make up the coming year.  Book Readings, Plays and Films, Concerts and Pilgrimages.  An extraordinary amount of creative thinking  and planning  has gone into  this, and I commend it  to you as strongly as I can. Please do not glance at this and turn aside. Please do not dismiss this as just another program of the diocese in a wide range of choices. Most of the cultural and educational offerings are offered on multiple  occasions around the diocese, and all are rich and promising. At the end will  come a time of reflection on the learnings that come through the course of the year.

The act or work or process of Lamentation is profoundly significant, spiritually, emotionally and intellectually, and is a necessary part of the growth of a mature person, though perhaps we pay it little attention.  It requires a long attention span. The beginning of the Book of Lamentations in the Bible has the writer  staring down from hillside  at the ruins of the destroyed Jerusalem and asking, “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?”  And that question demands response. Do you care?   What does this mean to you?  These nine bodies.  This clash of peoples.  This eruption  of hate.  “Is it nothing  to you, all ye that pass by?”   And  the answer we give will demand of us attention paid, and time spent, and lingering, hanging in even when it is painful, and the openness of spirit to allow the deep sorrows that attend human tragedy and human sin to soak through to the place inside where we have the capacity for deep understanding.  And deepest feeling. Where we own it and know it for what it is.

This I think  is where and how white people and black people may find the place of meeting. The possibility of understanding, at least the desire to know.  Not at first in shared intellectual propositions.  That will  come. But first in shared sorrow, shared hearts.

There is a paragraph from  James Baldwin’s  NOTES OF A  NATIVE  SON  that has been for me a literary and spiritual touchstone for almost four decades. It is this:

It began to seem that one would  have to hold in the mind forever two ideas which seemed to be in opposition.  The first idea was acceptance,  the acceptance,  totally without  rancor, of life as it is, and men as they are: in the light of this idea, it goes without  saying that injustice is a commonplace. But this did not mean that one could be complacent, for the second idea was of equal power: that one must never, in one's own life, accept these injustices as commonplace but must fight them with  all one's strength. This fight  begins, however, in the heart and it now had been laid to my charge to keep my own heart free of hatred and despair.

It begins in the heart.  This Year of Lamentation is heart work, and is the best, most promising possibility for us, across the races and peoples of New York, in these days of madness and fog, to become clear and bright together, that we may by the grace of God become

Everybody All Together, Everybody Being One.

The very first time I addressed you, still as coadjutor, I said that I believed the world  urgently needs the church to be the church, and I have repeated that.  But never in times as fraught as these. So fraught that it is almost impossible to talk about. Nothing can be said about America in 2017 which will  not instantly be filtered through the left or right political  lens of the hearer. No one can hear anyone else. No one is trying.  We are each in our own bubble, deafened by the voices in our own heads that refuse to shut up.  I sat with a vestry one Sunday, and the warden said, “It’s so hard, Bishop Dietsche. We have pro-Trump  people and anti-Trump  people.”  So I said, “Then stop talking  about Trump.”   Between supporters and opponents of the president there is no place of meeting. Only the widening, deepening maw of division.

Instead, try  being the church.  Anything and everything  that the church, its preachers or its people have to say in the public square, in the body politic, must be shaped, defined, described and bounded by our reading and understanding  of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  And  not the other way around.  Turn off the television and the internet and social media.  They’re poison. Reclaim your own mind, and turn to Matthew Chapter 5 and Luke Chapter 6 and begin reading Jesus’ great Sermon.  “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”  “Do good to those who hate you.  Bless those who curse you.  Pray for those who abuse you.”  Read Martin Luther King  and Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela and Dietrich  Bonhoeffer and all those who passed through the fire of persecution and hatred and faced down the Prince of this World and came out the other side to find only the oneness of the human family, and reconciliation and forgiveness.  We cannot hate our way to glory;   we gotta love, and go through the cross. Preach That.

Preachers preach! Words of grace and power.  Words of transformation and righteousness. And so equip your people to go back out into the world as ambassadors  of the love of God for every person through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Every person.

*****

Finally, as Jesus said to his disciples at the Last Supper, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear to hear them now.”  I surrender the floor.

As always, you are my heart, my soul, my self, my love, my people, my diocese. May God equip us for the work he gives us to do,
and make us brave and strong and faithful  for the opportunities  and challenges of the day.
Amen.

Menu

admin-qls