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Bishop Rowe’s Remarks to Deputies

Thank you. I am grateful to all of you who participated in this long discernment process — by serving on the nominating committee, by voting, by praying, and by sending encouraging messages to all of us who stood for election. Thank you to President Ayala Harris for welcoming us so warmly, and to the House of Deputies for your confirmation vote.

Most of all, I am grateful to DeDe, Daniel, Scott and Rob for their companionship and counsel along the way. They have truly been colleagues and fellows on the journey. It can be difficult to stand for election in the church without falling into the patterns of secular politics, in which other nominees are regarded as enemies and differences in strategy or approach are cast as choices between good and evil. I give thanks that the five of us together made this journey together by offering ourselves in solidarity and love for the church. I am very grateful for them.

Our ministry together in the next nine years comes at a critical time for the Episcopal Church. It is not too strong to say that we’re facing an existential crisis. Not because the church is dying, or because we have lost our belief in the salvation of God in Jesus Christ. But because as the world around us changes, and continues to change — it changes all the time — and God is calling us more deeply into the unknown.

I sometimes think of this moment in the Episcopal Church’s history in terms of the history of my own region of the United States, where I grew up and where I continue to serve. I am from the Rust Belt, and in the economic unraveling that has befallen our communities in the last 50 years, I have been around to see things I love go away.

My grandfathers were steel workers, and nearly my entire family worked in industry. In the space of a few years in the mid-1980s, when I was in elementary school, I watched everything I had known evaporate. The Westinghouse plant closed in my area, and my fourth-grade friends moved to Indiana when their parents were offered a transfer instead of a layoff. In 1987, Sharon Steel, a major local employer, closed when a corporate raider gained control, and thousands of people lost their jobs.

People in our region are resilient, but we spent years resisting the change that was forced on us, wishing things would go back to being the way they had been. In the partnership between the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania and the Diocese of Western New York, we have spent the last five years bucking that trend, that cultural resistance to change in what we call an experiment for the sake of the gospel. It is not always easy, but I believe that the kind of collaboration and experimentation we are up to can help us ensure the strong and effective witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ and to bring the Episcopal Church into the future to which God is calling us.

This imperative to change doesn’t just reside in the Rust Belt. If we are honest with each other and ourselves, we know that we cannot continue to be the Episcopal Church in the same way, no matter where we live. To participate fully in God’s mission:

It’s time to reorient our churchwide resources — budgets and staff — to support dioceses, congregations on the ground where ministry happens. To build on what dioceses and diocesan partnerships already do better than the churchwide structure and use churchwide resources to strengthen those ministries.

We must reform our structure and governance so that our essential polity, in which laypeople, clergy and bishops — all of us together — share authority, does not collapse under its own weight. I look forward to working with President Ayala Harris on this priority and many other initiatives.

We must support and encourage the brave and innovative work already being done by so many people, like the leaders in North Texas and Texas, Eastern and Western Michigan, Wisconsin and Navajoland who have discerned that they can create new capacity and energy for mission through juncture and reunion.

We must commit to creating a Beloved Community in which we can disagree without shaming or blaming or tearing each other apart. And here’s an idea: let’s use our anger at injustice instead of turning it inward and our desire to bring about God’s realm to forge a strong and respectful community of leaders. It might be nice if we took one more step toward behaving as if Jesus’ teachings of forgiveness and reconciliation are not just words, but the way we order our lives and our relationships with one another.

Make no mistake: Reorienting our structures, our budgets, and our relationships will only matter if we do it for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of Jesus Christ. Our goal must be to invest more fully in creation care, evangelism, and racial reconciliation at every level of the church. Thanks to the leadership of this General Convention and previous General Conventions and Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, we have embraced those core ministry priorities since 2015. Now our broken world badly needs us to address them even more strategically and more effectively. This is the work God is calling us to do.

We have the opportunity in the last few days of this convention to begin this work together.

First, while we hold fast to our polity, I urge you to hold our current structures lightly, leaving room for the Spirit to work among us in the next triennium:

Together we can imagine new ways to address our concerns and ministry priorities, creating networks among dioceses instead of new commissions, and maybe exercising some restraint in the number of interim bodies we create.

We can avoid creating staff positions in an organizational structure that must change dramatically to be equipped for the ministry of supporting dioceses.

Second, I thank the House of Deputies for its rejection of Resolution C008 and hope that we will stay that course. Our current level of investment — by this, I mean our current assessment rate that funds the churchwide budget — is worth maintaining for now — for now — so that we have the resources we need to restructure, reorient, and recast the way that the presiding bishop, the Executive Council, and the churchwide staff all in the service of serving dioceses where ministry happens on the ground. Let’s see what we can accomplish together and then reevaluate the right level of investment in our common life.

Third, I ask you to think of the time between now and November when I take office as a kind of relational jubilee in which we can let go of the resentment, anger, and grudges that have weakened our leadership in this church in these pandemic and post-pandemic years. Too often the way we have behaved toward one another has not been a witness to the power of the Good News of God in Christ, and it has torn relationships and wasted capacity that we need for the work ahead. Sometimes I think we’re We’ve been acting a little like churches that Paul writes about. We all profess the same faith and we are all bound by the same Baptismal Covenant, and I hope that where we are divided, we can find the courage to forgive one another and begin again. Start over for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

We have a lot of work to do before we leave Louisville, and President Ayala Harris has already been very generous with her podium. Before we return to the business of our houses, I want to leave you with the words of Thomas Merton, whose vision at the corner of 4th and Walnut (now Muhammad Ali) has become a touchstone for us at this convention:

In a time of drastic change one can be too preoccupied with what is ending or too obsessed with what seems to be beginning. In either case one loses touch with the present and with its obscure but dynamic possibilities. What really matters is openness, readiness, attention, courage to face risk. You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith, and hope. In such an event, courage is the authentic form taken by love.

So let us be courageous, brothers, sisters, siblings, and let us follow Jesus into an unknown future filled with hope. I look forward to our ministry together.

 

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