Finding Ways to Support Congregations

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March 25, 2020
Lent 4

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Greetings in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd who accompanies us all our life long. I have realized that most of our communications have been to the clergy, but I also want to update you on a number of things that are presently afoot in the diocese.

Dickens famously said that it was the best of times and the worst of times. In frustrating, anxious, and constrained circumstances, you all have risen to the occasion remarkably (but not surprisingly!). We have a plethora of options to worship in the different missions and parishes, through which, most importantly, worship of our Lord continues throughout this diocese. I have noted the creativity in these offerings, in congregations large and small, urban, suburban, and rural. Also, the clergy are doing yeoman’s work keeping in touch with their flocks through phone calls and pastoral networks. To be sure, there have been postponements of events like clergy conference and the 125th celebration, but we are finding other ways to carry on: a webinar about stewardship, an online clergy reading group, and a resurgence of interest in that backbone of Anglican spirituality, morning and evening prayer.

We at the diocese have been working hard to find ways to support congregations across these difficult months. We have been able to forgive the diocesan assessment for April. We have cut our own budget to the bone to have funds to aid missions, and we are developing a bridge fund for parishes in difficult financial straits. We will make it across together, by the grace of God. I cannot say when we will be able once more to pray in person and together in our churches, but it will be as soon as safely and prudently possible.

I blanched at the idea of suspending worship, and yet again at the prospect of being shuttered for Easter! But we are doing what must be done in a hard and anomalous hour. I was interested to hear that the Pope had declared that Easter devotions and processions could be celebrated on Holy Cross Day for Roman Catholics! Well, I am not the Pope and we aren’t going to do that exactly! But we believe that every Sunday is a little Easter, and I invite parishes, if they wish, to select a Sunday in the fall on which to use the lections for the feast of the Resurrection (the liturgical equivalent of Christmas in July!) Odd yes, but perhaps a reminder that through every season of our lives together, Jesus is indeed risen and reigns, making intercession for us with the Father, to whom, with the Holy Spirit, now and forever.


The Rt. Rev. Dr. George R. Sumner Bishop of Dallas


Nouwen's Surprising Gift

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In the late 1970’s I attended Yale Divinity School, where Henri Nouwen was then the most famous figure on the faculty. He was an early and influential voice in the rediscovery of Christian spirituality, and an eloquent advocate of contemplation, quiet, and space for recollection. He actually came to visit Stephanie and me when we were first married and living in a studio in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Henri was worried about the effect that living in two small rooms would have on our spiritual life; we wondered if Henri had ever been to NYC before!  At any rate, a decade and a half later I heard a story about the master of quiet which made me smile. It turns out that, in the year of silence with the Trappists which led to his Genesee Diary, every evening Henri would commandeer the guesthouse phone and call friends from around the country for hours. Eventually the guest master withdrew all phone privileges. You see Henri was, it turns out, anything but quiet, actually hyperactive, eloquent in the description of what he longed for but did not easily attain. What he was was, in fact, a lot more like me than I had reckoned. Don’t get me wrong- I am not saying he was somehow a fraud, but on the contrary just the man for the job, a master of seeing what in our hearts resists silence. It helped me hear him, in retrospect, to learn how much he was like me as well as how much he knew about the subject that I didn’t. 

In a recent reflection in First Things, my friend Ephraim Radner spoke of ‘the time of the virus,’ when we are secluded in quiet, perhaps with our families, without the obsession of work or the hectic activity (though Netflix remains!)  He compares our situation to Jubilee in the Book of Leviticus.  He calls on us to embrace this time of reflection and spiritual retreat, imposed though it be on us.  But you (and I) may ask: what kind of reflection is it to be if accompanied by anxiety for our own welfare, and instability in the very order around us? Well, reflection that is real and profound, whose only answer, and yet whose sure and trustworthy answer, is God.  We are rehearing, relearning, this, in this sudden and surreal way.  But I resist it, would perhaps rather distract myself on the phone (without a guest master to forbid it). Indeed, but this too reveals myself to myself, as I really am, ultimately before the divine and loving mystery whom we know, and by whom we are embraced, who is Jesus Christ.  And to be sure, in my sixty-fifth year, unlike my twenty fifth, I can be grateful that I am enclosed in more than those two rooms, complete with a Murphy bed! In whatever domicile, it is ourselves that we meet, with a companion perhaps, and with our fears to be sure, and with the fourth, the Prince of Peace, as well (Daniel 3:18).





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Complete the Race (II Timothy 4:17)

At the end of our vacation we find ourselves in Chicago for its Marathon weekend (the fastest, I have read this morning, perhaps because it is cool and relatively level). Marathons offer many good things. You can see world-class athletes from places like Ethiopia and Kenya. There is a feel of fiesta with signs by family members, getups by some for-fun runners, and food for sale.

But as I looked out my hotel window at 7:30 a.m., I watched the race of competitors who have lost legs or their use. Wheeling vehicles by arm for 26 miles means serious fitness and determination.

Those competitors were to me, this morning, a symbol of the Church too. For each is wounded. The larger family cheers them on. Each by grace has risen up to run the race. Ahead is the goal, the prize, the welcome home. We find the companionship of Jesus the Lord, there, and along the route too.