Bp Dietsche’s Address to the 2014 Convention
November 15, 2014
The following is the full text of Bishop Dietsche’s address on the morning of Nov 15, 2014, to the 238th Convention of the Diocese, held in Tarrytown, NY, Nov 14 -15.
For Bishop Shin’s Report to convention, click here.
For Bishop Shin’s sermon at the convention Eucharist, click here.
The Right Reverend Andrew M.L. Dietsche
Bishop of New York
Address to the 238th Convention of the Diocese of New York
November 15, 2014 • Tarrytown, New York
Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
It is my pleasure to welcome you to this 238th Convention of the Diocese of New York, which is my second as your bishop. I’m learning how to do this bishop thing as I go along, but what I can say is that the first year and a half has combined some of the most sublime joys I’ve had in my life in the church and some of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I am often asked if I am enjoying being bishop. I very much am, but more to the point is my discovery that the longer I do this the more convinced I become that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing, and that is a great satisfaction. Which I think is the mark of vocation. And I am grateful for that, and grateful to you. I want to talk to you this morning about some new missional possibilities and opportunities for the diocese, some challenges that face us as a church and as a people, and the direction for the strategic plan work which will occupy the next year in the life of this diocese.
In late August I attended the Nueva Amanecer conference on Latino Ministry at Kanuga in North Carolina. There were some 250 people present from all over the church, including at least two dozen from this diocese. There was an infectious feeling of celebration and the excitement of seeing God do a new thing before our eyes. It was impossible to stand among all of these excited, committed Christian people and not know that there is a great revival bubbling up in our midst. I looked around me and I thought this is the future of the church, and it made me very glad.
You have heard me say that I am certain that any church which is not taking up the opportunities and challenges of ministry to and among the Latino people in our communities is living on borrowed time. Let me be more specific. The United States in 2014 is the second largest Latino nation on earth. By 2050, 36 years from now, one in three Americans will claim Latino descent. More and more vestries I sit with see that this is the growth curve for their communities and their most promising mission field, but do not know how to make the invitation or cross the language divide. Next week Anthony Guillan, the Hispanic officer of the Episcopal Church, is coming to our diocese to offer the first of three workshops on Latino Ministry. I was introduced to him a couple of years ago by Mother Carla Guzman, and he and I have become fast friends. He could not be more impressive. Next Friday and Saturday will be in Poughkeepsie, and the following two will be in Region Two and New York City. I promise you that Anthony will overcome your fears, and he will show you how to become bicultural and even bilingual, and I know that he will excite and inspire you as he has excited and inspired me. I very much encourage your participation in one of these workshops. Indeed, there may be nothing more important you can do to serve the long term health of your church than to come hear Anthony this week.
After a full year of planning between her and me, I am delighted to announce that Altagracia Perez has come to the diocese from Los Angeles to take the position of Canon for Congregational Vitality. This completes the staffing that I will ask you to fund through the assessment budget. She will work side by side with Bishop Shin in the coordination and oversight of congregational development and the allocation of resources for congregational support. She will also bring deep experience and passion to her liaison with the Congregational Development Committee. I think she is going to shake things up. But within that, she will also convene and coordinate the work of our Latino clergy and parishes, and help to shape the larger vision of the establishment of congregations and the expansion of this ministry.
But I am also creating another position which I will fund apart from the assessment budget. I told you that I would reduce the number of salaries that I would ask you to pay, and I have done that. So Trinity Parish has agreed to partner with the diocese in the creation of the position of Hispanic Missioner. This is intended to be a direct follow-up to the trainings introduced by Anthony Guillen, and to give direct, on-the-ground, in-the-parish consultation with churches in the development of program and worship by which our parishes may extend the invitation and welcome to their Latino neighbors. I have asked the Reverend Yamily Bass-Choate to assume this new responsibility, and to begin at the turn of the year. I know that predominantly Anglo churches cannot easily make these cultural leaps in their common life without help, and the strength of the program Yamily built at San Andres is her strongest commendation to guide that work.
This summer thousands of young people from Central America found their way, through much privation, to the United States in flight from violence and gang war. They arrived at our borders, exhausted and imperiled, and threw themselves into the arms of police and border patrols, only to be placed under arrest and moved to detention centers. But some of these young people are worshipping in our churches, and some of our parishes are reaching out in pastoral care to those in nearby centers. I have asked the Guild of Saint Ives for lawyers to step forward to represent these young people in the hearings that they are facing. And I am asking today for people who are willing to shepherd one young person through this system. You don’t need to be a lawyer, you don’t even need to know Spanish. You just need to be willing to open the mail and read the communications from the courts and consult with the pro bono lawyers we will provide and make sure that these young people don’t fall through the cracks. If you feel called to give a bit of your time to this assistance, please call my office and we will be most happy to connect you to this ministry.
Latino ministry can never again be seen simply as a project of the church, nor may we name the Latinos who share our communities and churches with us “them” or “other.” The times in which we live are giving us a tremendous opportunity to explore again what it means to be many people made one by the love of God in Christ Jesus, and this opportunity, with its challenges, is increasingly woven into the very warp and weave of our common life. I am convinced that we will all, Latino and Anglo (and African and West Indian and Indian and Asian) find the very best way forward as Americans and Christians when we are together, being one people. Jesus said “I came that all might be one as the Father and I are one.” And this is the vision of the Kingdom I return to again and again: Everybody all together, everybody being one. See the resources that we are bringing to this ministry, the helps that we will give you, and let us from this convention commit ourselves in all the places where we live and work and worship, and the diocese itself, to a new day and a renewed welcome to all people. Yo soy un Cristiano Latino! Si se pueda!
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Both Bishop Shin and I were away at the House of Bishops when the great climate march took place in New York in September. From far away I saw the pictures of four hundred thousand people marching on our streets and thought “I am in the wrong place. I should be at home.” So I commend those of you who participated in that march, and particularly thank Dean Kowalski and our cathedral for hosting what by every account was a brilliant and powerful concluding event. I want also to note the commitment of the dean, stated then and repeated since, that we will be seeing solar panels appear on the roof of our cathedral — may we one day see them on every church.
But when the march is over, what do we do with our convictions and our fears? What do we do with our advocacy? What do we do when even some of the best among us are adopting a resigned fatalism to the environmental and social devastation that climate change may be delivering to our door?
I have been invited by Archbishop Thabo of Cape Town into a conversation of bishops from around the communion whose see cities will be adversely affected by rising ocean levels. Anyone who visited Staten Island or Lower Manhattan after Hurricane Sandy knows that that is us. London, Bangladesh and Hong Kong, dioceses on the African coasts, bishops from Latin and South America. I am the only American. So far, this has been conducted in conference calls, but in February we will gather for three days in Cape Town. Now I confess to having some qualms about taking a very long jet plane flight in the name of going green. But I am equally convinced that we in the American church must be at that table, so I will go and engage that conversation. Our intention is to bring concrete, practical, important recommendations to the Anglican Communion, that we as a church may be a more effective influence on the public policy of nations. It may be that the American church has less influence on government than those in other nations, but I hope that in joining our voices we may be more easily heard.
But if I am asked by Bishop Thabo to come to that table, that I am asking you to make exploring the capacity to remain in hope in the face of environmental catastrophe, a hope grounded in prophetic action and advocacy, a priority for all policy and everything we do. I remember coming out of a meeting in a struggling church where we were wrestling with short and long term challenges, and suddenly realizing that in fifty years the place where I was standing will be under water. That put things in perspective pretty fast. In the face of what is almost certainly to be the greatest environmental disaster and social upheaval, with ever more extreme privations for the poorest among us, our Christian responsibility to the very next generation must demand everything we have to give.
Six weeks ago I held my newborn grandson. By rights he should live into the 22nd century. What world awaits him? And what word might I even now whisper into his brand new ears that would give him reason to live into the challenges of that world with confidence and hope? And what might I yet do with the time I have left, as a disciple of Jesus, to seek and to pursue the good for this still young and promising planet on which we live so that when I am gone and that little one awakens one morning to find that the future has arrived at his door he will not have cause to curse my memory.
The hour is coming and now is. I will ask our Committee on the Environment to accept a robust and muscular leadership in our diocese in the coming year. I promise them the full weight of whatever influence I have. I promise them the resources they will need. The Diocese of New York is not going to solve global warming. But we are residents of this wonderful Garden of Eden, we have no place to live but the big blue marble, and we have a responsibility to ourselves, to the least among us, to every creature who also calls this garden home, and to our beautiful Creator God to face the crisis and live into it in faith and hope and especially by right action. I will ask our environmental leadership to assume a gathering authority in the diocese that they may lead us in the substantial, sacrificial, and prophetic actions that will make our witness to the world about us that we do not give up on God; we do not despair.
As a sign of that commitment this diocese is following the mandate you gave us in convention to explore the ways toward divestment from fossil fuels. This is a way of exercising our voice in the face of intractable denial. But it is also consistent with a past resolution of this convention, now two decades old, calling on the Diocese of New York and the Diocesan Investment Trust to bring leadership to every church toward making socially responsible investment decisions. I will welcome a RESOLUTION today to reaffirm that earlier resolution, that we be reminded and be helped to see our fiduciary responsibilities and the use of our assets as part and parcel of our call to the gospel life.
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It seemed that everyone in the world who could go to war with anyone else chose this summer to do so. Gaza. Syria. Iraq. The Ukraine. We saw every fragile peace collapse under the weight of ancient and modern ethnic and religious and political and tribal hostility, and we have seen horrors we will never be able to forget. We saw the oppression of the weak by the strong, and we saw generations of bad choices, bad diplomacy, bad warmaking and bad peacemaking come before us again to proffer their account. What it means for us to say “fallen” and what it means for us to say “sin” and what it means for us to say “evil” was laid bare across the world stage and in the hearts of people. Our own hearts. Everywhere was war.
And in late summer there was war on Canfield Drive in Ferguson, Missouri. Michael Brown became on August 9th another casualty of the same war that has raged since the beginning of time and erupted everywhere that people divide themselves from people and put one people above another, and dehumanize the other. This was just three weeks after Eric Garner of Staten Island lost his life in an overzealous police chokehold. This diocese has condemned racial profiling and policies of stop and frisk. We stood appalled at the vigilante justice that took the life of Travon Martin. How many times must we come back again and again to these tragedies? The increasing patterns of over-policing across America are generating in our cities a state of heightened fear and risk, of suspicion and terror, and are putting police officers and citizens alike in grave and constant danger.
The church is uniquely poised to exercise a voice in public policy that honors the essential humanity of the whole community — the police who are called to protect us, the victims of crime, and those suspected or accused of crime. Our neighbor and the stranger at the gate. We are in that unique place because we are the fashioners of communities of character. We have Jesus’ reasonable voice of respect and peace and the love of God, and we must exercise it. Following this address we will receive a RESOLUTION on Police and Community Relations, and I urge its passage and encourage our churches in every community to take up the mantle of responsibility which this resolution will ask of us. Because even now, in these days, we await the decision of the grand jury in Ferguson, and no matter what decisions are made there will be a passionate response. I am not the Bishop of Missouri. I know the Bishop of Missouri. And we are not the diocese that has jurisdiction over Ferguson. But this is a national outrage, and I encourage every parish to commit to prayer in your community, and especially where the decisions to come may be expected to land with special force, to open your doors on that day and SERVE YOUR COMMUNITY, that we may help create a respectful and prayerful haven where every emotion and conviction may be expressed in safety, and in that safety, where the bonds of our common humanity may be reaffirmed, and the life of Michael Brown, and the loss of it, be remembered and honored.
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When we speak of issues of social justice, we are reminded that we are called to advocate for those who cannot speak for themselves. We are called to stand beside the oppressed, the forgotten and the thrown away, and raise a strong voice for equality and fairness. But our justice advocacy will ring hollow and be seen to be so if the words we speak are not consistent with our actions, the way we go about our business, and the character and quality of our common life. Specifically, the same inequity of assets and access to resources — the wealth gap — that is so destructive and humiliating in the larger economy is mirrored in the inequities in our own diocesan life, and the gap between rich parishes and poor parishes and rich people and poor people. Long ago this diocese stated that its mission was to be an effective presence in poor communities. In a few minutes I will be speaking about the inauguration of a strategic plan, and very much at the heart of that work will be and must be a conversation about money, and our accountabilities to one another across culture and geography. But a small committee of people from our diocese, led by Winnie Varghese and the Social Concerns Committee, has been working this year on the first steps toward the creation of a diocesan credit union. One in twelve Americans is unbanked, and in the Bronx that is 28 percent. Close to a quarter of Americans are underbanked, especially in poor communities. The high cost of banking services, and the closing of bank branches in poor neighborhoods, have driven more and more people through the doors of payday lenders and predatory financial services. It is an imperative that we who call one another brother and sister must also find avenues to extend to our own people and our communities the most basic elements of economic opportunity. Ten years ago this convention passed a resolution calling for the establishment of a low-income credit union, and in a few minutes you will be asked by RESOLUTION to reaffirm that decision, that we may bless and commission the work of this group. I ask you to.
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For several years, each September, I have had the privilege of visiting Green Haven Prison in Dutchess County to baptize inmates. The protestant chaplain at the prison is Gideon Jebamani, an Episcopal priest of this diocese, but the overwhelming religious character of the several hundred men who participate in the chaplaincy is fundamentalist and pentecostal. The service lasts about three hours. There are lots of testimonies, an amazing inmate gospel band, and all baptisms are by immersion — the kind of wet sloppy baptisms that require three men with mops to get through successfully. At the center of the baptismal experience is the conviction, held by all present, that in baptism we are made wholly new. “If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation.” It is the wiping away of that which has come before, and the possibility of the fresh beginning which drives the religious enterprise, and a great contrast is drawn by all between the “Old Man” who goes into the waters and is drowned and the “New Man” who is pulled back up out of those depths. For a congregation of people who have come to see in a terrible and powerful way the cost of their own bad behavior and the consequence of their own destructive life decisions, the palpable expression of their faith is a strong, emotional gratitude that one is saved. I was blind but now I see. I was lost but now am found. God saved a wretch like me.
But that urgent language of salvation, as powerful as it is, is not as common an expression in the more reserved expressions of the Episcopal Church, outside that kind of particular setting among people whose life experience has been drawn in such contrasts and whose yearning for God is so raw. Not as common where life is easier.
So I have found that before I go preach in the presence of this congregation, I have to take time to ask myself the question: What do I mean when I say about myself, as I do, that I have been saved? What does it mean for me to say that by my baptism I am a new creation? Do I even believe that? I have met these men and they do. I have met people who know exactly what it means to be saved, and for them it turned out to be the pearl of great price. It turned out to be the treasure in the field. And they gave everything that they might have it.
Some years ago a bishop told me with some measure of sadness that he no longer believed that most people wanted to be transformed. It was a disappointing conclusion for one who had given his life to nurturing the converted soul, and it is something I have spent a lot of time thinking about. Our common experience is that the urgencies which occupy almost all of the energies of church leaders are about promoting and strengthening institutional health. The criteria by which we are assessed, the kind of information that goes on parochial reports, has almost solely to do with numbers of people, numbers of dollars, and management of property and resources. And all of that is important, because we have been given the care of and responsibility for the Church, and it is Jesus’ church. But we can be led to the conclusion that in the end, whatever we mean by “success” in the church will be measured more or less by the same template as other institutions. And that idea of success can come to be seen as an end in itself. In colonial New England, Cotton Mather reflected on the experience of the Puritans after a couple of generations in America, and wrote that “fidelity gave birth to prosperity, and the daughter destroyed the mother.”
So last night I asked you to spend time together thinking and talking about your churches in language of health, but with health understood entirely as a measure of Jesus’ presence among us to convert and transform people and communities, and to make the new creation. I asked you to reflect from your own experience what it means that becoming a Christian makes a new person, and what we mean when we say that authentically Christian people and communities will necessarily look and be different from other people and communities around us. How can we tell the Body of Christ from the body politic?
While you were sleeping the sleep of the innocent last night I stayed up and combed through the volume of pages of notes from the two dozen groups that met and talked for an hour and a half. It was far more than I could absorb in full late in the evening, but I promise you I will read it all.
Here is what you said.
I learned that you love your churches. Whether large or small, city or country, you love your churches. You told me about the young people in your parishes; about Vacation Bible School, and Godly Play, and about the transformations that sometimes happen in confirmation preparation. You celebrated your ethnic diversity, across the diocese, but especially in those places where lots of different people are mixed in the same congregation. Some of you talked of experiences of resurrection following parish conflict, or institutional crisis, or the deaths of key leaders. I heard about strong lay-ordained partnerships in leadership. You told me about the music you love, the liturgy that sustains you, and all of the arts that serve the sacred. You especially told me how much you value effective transforming preaching.
You told me about the ways that love is lived out in community, and of the ability to take risks born of trust. I heard about sacrificial giving, and strong community social outreach. This was a strong constant in everything you said: almost every parish is reaching out to meet the needs of your communities. Apparently a simply astonishing amount of food is bagged and boxed and given out at the door and cooked up in the parish kitchen and served at tables to the hungry. You sponsor Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. I read about Trinity Parish’s “Come and Pee” open restroom ministry in Lower Manhattan. And I read of parish-based ex-offender re-entry work.
You talked about faith which is nurtured and supported in small groups, and the capacity of scripture to build strong spiritual foundations in people and communities. You do a great deal of ecumenical and interfaith sharing. From parishes of two or three dozen people to the largest churches in the diocese I heard what it meant for you to participate in Carpenter’s Kids. You do AIDS ministry, you support international mission work, you do pastoral care to people in crisis, and you give loving care to the dying. You offer a tremendous array of parish programs — steel pans and hiking clubs and literacy education and prayer fellowship and community gardens.
You told me about the child in the after-school program who said “I really like that God loves me.” The church with two languages and congregations, but united under one vestry. The young gay man who came out for the first time to his church, was embraced, and is now senior warden. The grieving widow who came looking for caring support and now leads the centering prayer fellowship. The quite garden and labyrinth where the town gathers to eat their lunch. The parish that reads “Flanders Field” together every Memorial Day. The foul-mouthed little boy who called his priest (and here I am quoting) “a word that rhymes with ‘witch’,” but went on to play Jesus in the Christmas Pageant. You talked about people who came in homeless and hungry who now volunteer at the church and contribute their money. So, so much more.
Red and yellow, black and white.
We are precious in God’s sight.
This is why we matter. In ways big and small, we are making saints, opening people’s eyes to see the beauty and brilliance of what it means to be a child of the living God. So I am engaged right now in interviewing several different organizations and individuals in order to invite a facilitator for our coming work of strategic plan. They and I are assuming the same trajectory, that we will call a steering committee into being in January, and conclude the strategic work before the end of 2015, or in the spring of 2016. We could do this in a year, except for my insistence that that process take place around the structure of Indaba conversations, like the ones you had last night, and we are going to need a bit more time for that.
Why do I keep talking about Indaba? In my first year as your bishop, from the summer of 2013 to the summer of 2014, a significant number of our parishes accepted the invitation to enter into a deeper, richer conversation with one another across the cultures and regions of the diocese, and it is a fair statement to say that the great majority of them found the experience to be spiritually transformative, and to have informed their life in the church in ways they did not expect. I know that, because people have been telling me that for a year.
I know that people in Indaba found correction to many assumptions they had made about other places and people in the diocese, and discovered in these new relationships strengths for ministry and Christian witness in unlikely places. But I am confident that a significant fruit of the Indaba work was the discovery for so many people of health where they did not expect to find health, and expressions of the Christian life that are manifestly healthy, but according to measures quite unlike those of their own parishes and communities. I said at the beginning that we must develop what I called “a shared understanding of our common life” as the Diocese of New York, and the particular quality of Indaba encounters builds exactly that understanding. And we’ve seen that unfold among us.
I am convinced that without such a shared understanding, without a common mind regarding our common life, no strategic plan we could muster has a chance of succeeding. We are too large and too complex a community, and without a sense of the larger fabric into which we are all woven, the challenges and urgencies we face are more likely to shape a strategic process driven by local self-interest and indifference toward the life and needs of others. We could do that, but why would we want to, and how could we ask Jesus to bless it?
I know that there are some who thought we would throw ourselves immediately into the strategic plan as soon as I became bishop. I am confident that there are some who do not see Indaba as serious work, and do not understand why I believe this to have been, and to continue to be, essential preparation for the strategic work we must do. I have been told that “everyone knows the five things we need to do,” and I am sure that that is true, even as I am just as sure that we would never agree on the five things themselves. I want to say that while I know very well how much hard work we must do, and the challenges which lie right before us, I am also certain that we can overstate the urgency of it, and to our own undoing. I was asked last week if the Diocese of New York is in crisis. We are not in crisis. General Seminary was in crisis, and I am confident that you could tell the difference. This ship is not sinking. Rather, the diocese is stable but unsustainable. That stability means that we have the time to slow down and do this right, and not do this driven by fear. But the unsustainability means that we have to get on it.
In the next several months I will be having private and group conversations around the diocese, to hear from you the priorities for the diocese as you see them from the place where you stand. I want to see with your eyes. I want to know what you know. I want to hear the wisdom only you have that we all need. What do you believe are our priorities for mission and ministry? For the development of alternative and non-parochial ministries? For the recruitment and raising up of ordained and lay leaders? For the witness we are called to make to peace and justice? For the five things, and yes, for the really hard work we need to do on structure, finance and administration? That we may support and sustain and grow this sacred mystery.
And we will be offering another cycle of Indaba conversations, and I have asked that the deadline for registration for that be extended so that I might give you this encouragement now. I ask you to participate in those, whether you did so the last time or not. I want you to be effective participants in the strategic plan, and Indaba is the training for it, because all of these questions are going to be sorted out together, by everyone, in every place. In December we will introduce the facilitator for the coming process, and in January we will announce the steering committee, led by experienced and committed Indaba folk, and the timeline.
Most Sundays I have the honor of receiving candidates for confirmation. Sometimes one or two and sometimes a host of them. When I meet with them before the sacrament, I tell them all the same thing. I tell them that I believe that in a broken and violent world, a world in which the ways people hurt other people and break people down and divide people are myriad, it is the responsibility of every person — not just every Christian or every person of faith, but every person — to find a way to tell the world what they stand for. That everyone has an obligation to stand before their community, their world and whatever higher purpose animates their souls, and declare that they will not part of those forces of destruction. That they refuse to bend their lives to that violence, that contempt. That they will not join themselves to that which corrupts and destroys. Rather, they will embrace principles that endure and things that matter, and make and nurture communities of character. I tell them that I believe that every person in the world has an obligation to let the rest of us know that they can be counted on. That they can be trusted. I tell them that every person has this responsibility, but that the way we do that as Christians is by baptism. By promises made and promises kept. And by conforming our lives, and the things that we think about, and the things we do, to our beautiful Jesus.
I tell them these things, because I worry that the greatest risk to the church and the Christian enterprise is our temptation to ask too little of ourselves and our communities. It is easy to make doing church a small thing, and to think that being a Christian is nobody’s business but our own. So how we live into this adventurous, heroic life together, across three boroughs and seven counties, rich and poor, strong and weak, of every color and a dozen languages, and how we demonstrate this to the world about us and make a difference in the place where God has put us on the day God has put us there is the strategic plan. And if it’s not, then why in the world would we care about it? Two years ago when I spoke to you for the first time I said that all I want is the Kingdom of Heaven. And I said that if I couldn’t have the Kingdom of Heaven then I don’t want anything else. I got a glimpse of it last night when I read the things you said to me. And it turned me on. Amen.