Bishop's Address to Diocesan Convention 2018

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Women, children, the old, clergy, monks, seminarians, pilgrims, servants, peasants in the fields, not to mention cattle and horses:  just about a millennium ago, these were the categories of living creatures exempted from slaughter in Europe in what was called ‘the Truce of God.’  In the feudal era the nobles had taken to attacking each other, and everyone round about, with gusto, and the very survival of society was in question.  The end of the 10thCentury also saw expectation that the world might end in the year 1000, as well as spiritual movements of resistance among the laity, not to mention plague.  There began a movement to expand the respite from incessant violence, at first modestly around cathedrals, only on Sundays and feast days. Soon they managed to split the week between four days of war and three of peace. By a century later they had managed to whittle the days when the dukes and barons could pillage and murder to a mere eighty.  The Treuga Dei was of course also a reminder of the Kingdom of the prince of Peace in the midst of this rebellious and conflict-ridden world.  Unfortunately, the idea came to be assimilated into that of Crusade, so that the violence which abated in Europe was redirected to the infidel in the Holy Lands. In our own time we see an echo of the idea in the Christmas truce in the trenches of World war I in 1914, when English and German soldiers met in no-man’s-land to exchange presents and sing Stille Nacht. Recently the Archbishop emeritus of Canterbury Rowan Williams used the term to describe a central dimension of our witness in our own violence-ridden world.

       There is these days a widespread reticence, among more traditional and progressive parishes alike, to address either the debate about marriage or about the authority and nature of our church.  I sympathize. This struggle has cost us all dearly in money, people, and a discouraging division displayed to the world.  To give but one example from our own experience, it recently occurred to me driving up 75 toward Plano that I lead a diocese with what psychologists call ‘phantom limb syndrome,’ one of our three largest parishes still felt in its absence.  But, at this gathering, in the wake of General Convention, as I enter the second half of my tour of all our vestries and bishop’s committees, in the midst of a particularly divisive and anger laden season of our national life, I want to speak directly, this one time, to the issue of ‘communion across difference’ as a result of differences over our teaching on marriage, and how these have an impact on our common life as a diocese.  This one time. In his recent visit to Dallas, in explicit solidarity with us who are Communion Partner bishops and dioceses, traditionally oriented but loyal to the Church, Archbishop Justin Welby said he wanted to reaffirm the Communion’s teaching on marriage, draw a line, and move on to mission! One can sympathize with this desire.  With a similarly irenic hope, I offer this address in order to exhort us to move on together in mission. 

    Diocese of Dallas, gathered as one at this Diocesan Convention, as your bishop, I declare to you the Truce of God! If you forget all the details of our working out of the arrangement based on Resolution B012, remember this: the time has come for the Truce of God. Many on both sides have some wound, or perceived wrong, or suspicion, or strategy of advantage. Each of us must lay these down, not the other, but you, and I.  I am not calling on you to lay down your theological commitments, no I think our Church needs more theological seriousness, not less.  I am saying that we need, with God’s help, as Churchmen and women, to find a way for us to live together, in these times, as ‘Communion across Difference.’ A taskforce with this name was created by General Convention to find a way forward together.  (I might add, Fred Ellis and Christopher Wells, are, across difference, participants).  Before even addressing how theologically, and how practically, we can do this, we need to start, in each of our hearts, with the Truce of God. We need to banish rancor, anger, and fear with the help of God’s grace.  We need to pitch our tents in the demilitarized zones around our churches. 

      As you will recall from your multiple readings of your well-thumbed copy of my 64-page pastoral letter, sitting as I am sure it is on your night stand, I am committed to the unity of the Church, the traditional teaching on marriage, and proceeding together with charity and hospitality one with another. I planted this flag deliberately before the General convention, come what may. These are immoveable, but figuring out how to manage all three at the same time has been the trick!  It is in this light that we must understand our working out of resolution B012 in our diocese.  The rectors of three parishes, St. Thomas, Transfiguration, and Ascension, have requested the assisting oversight which would make access to these rites possible. All our parishes remain a part of the diocese, and all are here, together, as full members, at this Diocesan Convention, as they will be a year from now, though by that time three will have come under the spiritual supervision of a visiting, helping bishop, whose name I will be able to announce by mid-November. We are all still in communion as members of the Episcopal Church.  We are all able to abide by our own conscience and conviction.  This has its challenging aspect emotionally, but we are working the specifics out together. And I hope that these parishes will invite me to come to preach and teach each year as a guest, to reinforce a spirit of friendship.  Meanwhile our own national church has published a demographic update that shows that, the Jesus Movement notwithstanding, our numbers decline unabated. In the face of these daunting realities, I believe our emphases on young ordained leadership, congregation-centered strategy, and planting and rebooting continue to fit the needs and callings of all parts of our diocese. 

       As I mentioned in passing above, all this will be taking place in a public and political atmosphere which is borderline poisonous.  It is specifically as American Christians that we must make our witness to the gospel together.  And that means a witness together, blue and red, in charity and friendship across difference, against the grain of our angry political scene.  In America in 2018, that means as Episcopalians speaking both English and Spanish. In America in 2018, that means as one denomination consciously reaching its hands out to fellow denominations which are predominantly African American; that means reaching out in friendship to our fellow Christians who are Roman Catholic in a time of great heartbreak and crisis for them. (I should add that our own Bishop Burns has shown bold leadership in the cause of accountability, for which he is to be commended).

   Our founding fathers (and mothers), some of whom were Episcopalians, also lived in a time of divisiveness. Their political wisdom filtered out to our own polity, which has an important place for lay leaders (of which this body is an offshoot 2 and a ¼ centuries later, as is the house of bishops, in our own version of bicameral governance.) I do not dictate, but can offer up to you my two cents.  We aim to live out our vocation as a traditional diocese in charity and on behalf of the Episcopal Church, our Church. To this end, a canon which reaffirms the traditional teaching on marriage, the Communion’s teaching, is valuable.  The fellowship of traditional dioceses, for mutual encouragement, called ‘Communion Partners,’ is valuable on behalf of the whole Church, and was ringingly endorsed by the Archbishop of Canterbury. As a traditional diocese in charity with a vocation on behalf of our own Episcopal Church, I encourage paying our assessment to the budget of General Convention, about which I share many criticisms. That is what being part of a body means. I also believe that our compromise view about an alternative option for giving continues to be wise.  I believe we need to emphasize hospitality and friendship, and so I hope to be invited to preach and teach as a guest at the churches under this new oversight. 

       Crisis is what we Anglicanism in our own way has been in for two decades; at its worst, split churches result, and we have seen some of that. But at their best crises throw us back in our incapacity on the grace of God, and they can require us anew to give an account of who we are and what we are for. Moments of deep uncertainty about the future throw us back on the certainty of what God has already done for us in Jesus Christ, back on the Gospel.  We are reminded that amidst all its busyness the Church is a sign of what God has done, and so what we have been given, through no virtue or accomplishment of our own.

   In this spirit let us consider the verse that I have chosen for this convention, and this address, is the call in Ephesians 4 to ‘speak the truth in love,’ the conjunction of the two, by the grace of God, as the word we particularly need at this time. Truth and love should, in the words of the 85thpsalm, ‘kiss one another,’ since both together, reflect who Christ is. But we also need to hear that verse, together, and at this moment in our history, in light of the rest of Ephesians 4.  It begins by reminding us that we are not sitting here by ourselves deciding our own future. We are inheritors of ‘one Lord, one faith, one baptism.’ Then it places all our gifts, risks, and hopes on the foundation of Jesus Christ’ incarnation, death, descent among the dead, resurrection, ascension, and call to mission. Every perplexity must be referred back to Him, whose going high was  his descending low on our behalf- the passage exhorts to learn this counter-worldly logic. Then it puts the ministry of the whole people of God as His servants centerstage, the ordained their servants for Jesus’ sake. Only then does it note how choppy the water around the boat is, how brisk the winds of confusion and cultural distraction.  But even here Paul is not bogged down in culture wars. He points us ahead to a vision ahead of us, and describes it in terms of spiritual maturity, in terms of being even in heaven one body, in being continually and painfully conformed to the image of Jesus himself.  Only as we bear in mind the full context of Ephesians 4 can we approach the high challenge of ‘speaking the truth in love.’  My mother would instruct us, from her mother, ‘is it true, is it kind, is it necessary?’ maybe yours said this as well. It was a high bar indeed, in the spirit of our verse.  Sometimes we manage one of the two, truth or love, after which we repair to the absolution of God.  But we can try again, and aim high for this ring, because Jesus Christ already embodied and enacted both together on our behalf.

      Indulge me, before I close, in a more personal postscript.  We recently had our RADVO conference, a remarkable moment of promise for our Church.   My son attended; someone saw his name tag and asked him ‘Sumner? Are you the bishop’s grandson?’ He enjoyed the story too. Many others in this room also inhabit that season in which we are to find what the great psychiatrist Eric Erikson called ‘generativity.’  We are to seek our satisfaction in the emergence of a new generation to assume leadership.  I am grateful for a calling that is all about that.  That is what RADVO was about, what our emphasis on ordination is about. It is also what every confirmation class in the diocese is about.  It is what every pursuit of ‘new blood’ for the vestry is about.  It is what our class in the new year en espanol for a new generation of Latino leaders is about.  We who are parents know we have no power to make such happen. Nor do we who are old understand the world into which we move.   For the camaraderie of so many passionate about this same purpose in this Diocese I am grateful.  For the opportunity to rediscover the beautiful clay pot called ‘Anglicanism’ in which is still found the Gospel, in this challenging time, I am grateful to God. My own personal prayer, for this coming year, and for those that follow, God willing, is to be turned, more and more, to that foundational work, of teaching the faith, of spiritual renewal, especially among the rising generation, the work often lost in the midst of immediate needs, the work which is most telling for our future as a Church. For such a high thing to worry over, exceeding as it does our capacity, may you and I, this morning, give thanks to God, for whom all things are possible. Amen. 


Dios de verdad y amor, Nuestro Padre, El Rey de toda la gente del mundo, te agradecemos por tu gracia a nosotros, tus ninos, teniendos pecados, y por el don de la iglesia, el cuerpo cruzado y resuscitado de tu Hijo. Ensenanos para hablar con amor. Haga que la treuga Dei sea un realidad en nuestra vida comun. Danos corazones abiertos por mission. Oremos todos en el nombre poderoso y dulce de Jesus Cristo. Amen.