Friday, March 4, 2011

Presentation to Wardens/Vestry 2011

I travel. I do about 30,000 miles a year in my car, more or less, as I make my way around. And one of the things I enjoy doing is to listen to books on tape. And so my wife suggested that I listen to a book called Lonesome Dove that some of you know. Evidently it’s going to take about 30,000 miles to get through that book.

As you know, in 1985 it was the Pulitzer Prize-winning western novel written by Larry McMurtry. It’s an earthy book, and I’m sometimes shocked by what happens in it, but I am enjoying it. In the very beginning of the book, a key character named Gus, Captain Augustus McCrae, an ex-Texas Ranger and cattleman and wrangler, Gus decides that the Hat Creek Cattle Company needs a sign out front. And so he begins this process of negotiation.

Now, those of you on a vestry who have ever decided you needed a new sign know exactly the kind of negotiations that Gus had to go through. They argue and argue about all the different things that can go on the sign, what the sign should say, and even where the sign is to hang.

When it’s all said and done, the politics are over, Gus proudly goes out and he hangs the sign up. It says, “The Hat Creek Cattle Company, a Livery Emporium. Captain Augustus McCrae and Captain Woodrow F. Call, Proprietors. P. Parker, a Wrangler. Deets, Joshua”— They didn’t know what Deets did so they didn’t give him a description. “For Rent: Horses and Rigs. For Sale: Cattle and Horses. Goats and Donkeys Neither Bought Nor Sold.” And this very controversial piece: “We Do Not Rent Pigs.”

We do not rent pigs. There was a lot of discussion about this addition to the sign, and Gus said, “Look, pigs are good for lots of things. They’re good if you want something to come over and wallow and soak up a mud puddle. They’re good for keeping snakes out of your cellar.” But he said, “I don’t want to have anything to do with any man who thinks renting a pig is a good idea. And so by putting that up there, ‘We Do Not Rent Pigs,’ we will avoid all kinds of business that is not our own. We do not rent pigs.”

Now, the sign hung there for quite a while but something, according to Gus, was missing—a little bit of Latin, he thought. So he dug through his belongings and found an old Latin book that his daddy had given him, and he found a phrase, “Uva Uvam Videndo Varia Fit.” It added something that was needed, a proverb, a tribute to an ancient Greek philosopher. It literally means “a grape or other grapes see changes.”

Changed by the world around us
Now, what’s interesting if you know Latin, which I don’t, but according to Wikipedia, if you know Latin, Gus has misspelled one of the words. And so there is a great literary debate. Did McMurtry make a mistake or is it intentional? I believe McMurtry was being intentional, for the mistake he makes changes the phrase to mean, “a grape is changed by living with other grapes.” A grape is changed by living with other grapes. You and I are changed by living with one another. You and I are changed by the world around us, and we have the opportunity to be about the work of transformational change in other people’s lives.

The Church Economy
As vestries, it is important to understand there are some things we do not do. We do not rent pigs, but we do change the lives of those with whom we serve, and we have the opportunity to change the world around us. But right now the world around us is having more influence on us than we are on it. We must be clear that the world and church that we thought would carry us forward is no longer systemically viable.

As a church, we have an economy. It’s like any other, at its very basic, one that is dependent upon income and expenditures. Our current economy, our way of doing things, though, no longer works. It has been forever changed. When it happened, I don’t really know. It is probably an event that has occurred over many, many years and only when we look back will we be able to say, “It happened then.” But we as leaders of our church have been treating this event, this change, this change in our economy, how things work in our churches, we have been treating this by dealing with the symptoms instead of realizing that the system itself is crumbling around us.

We have consistently believed some very basic things about life in the Episcopal Church. The first one is that those who are called by God to be Episcopalians will find us and come to our doors. It’s funny and then it’s not. Once they come inside our doors, we believe this:  that once they come inside our doors that they will stay because we have the most awesome liturgy. We do have an awesome liturgy. And someday, we say to ourselves, we will grow again. And when we grow again, that is the day we’ll take care of all of that deferred maintenance, that all we need is the right clergyperson.

You see, it’s not our communal responsibility, it’s simply the person with the funny collar’s responsibility, and if we could just get the right clergyperson, everything would be better. And then there is that one that if we just solve the issue of the day, whatever that issue is, we would surge in growth. If we were just true to the past or if we were just true to the future, either way, everything would be taken care of.

No corner on the market
The problem is that fewer and fewer people every year are actually looking for us. And when they come in, they do not necessarily react favorably to what they find. Meanwhile, our congregations are outperformed by the culture around us. We no longer have the sole market cornered on community life, on networking, on social services, on weddings or even funerals. We are outperformed by social media, bars, gyms, sports clubs, funeral homes, JPs, hospitals, and friends.
Think about your budgets for a moment. Our budgets themselves reveal this economic reality and what’s happening in our ministry, that our budgets are no longer sustainable. In 1997, a congregation with 50 people could support itself with a budget of about $100,000. Today it takes a congregation of more than 100 and a budget upwards of $150,000 to $180,000 a year without any debt—without any debt.

This congregation, depending on the health of its buildings and the deferred maintenance I mentioned a minute ago, might be able to afford a full-time minister and the cost of keeping the facilities open. However, this congregation, as you and I both know, has no money to do anything else. By the end of 2011, we expect that inflation itself may indeed grow to 2 percent. Maybe it won’t, but let’s just say that it does, just as an example.

So by the end of 2012, a congregation will see its expenses jump some $3,000 without doing anything. That means that the church will have to add one family who immediately is overcome by our liturgy and welcoming, who has felt called to be an Episcopalian their whole life but didn’t know it, and they are going to write a check for $3,500, the diocesan average, right then and there to take care of that inflation. And you will have to add that same family with that same commitment and understanding every year to break even and never add a dollar to mission, evangelism, or new ministry.

An old model
We are operating out of a model that depends upon assumptions about our culture that date back to the midcentury of the last millennium. I know. I have visited you all. I come and I see you in your congregations struggling with this. This is a painful acknowledgement, but we have got to get real. We must face this reality as a church. You and I did not do a whole lot to create this situation. I recognize that.

Most of us have been bumping along just trying to be good, faithful Episcopalians doing what we thought we were supposed to be doing. But I will tell you, no matter how many times we go back to sleep or close our eyes or hope for something different or try to fix a symptom, this dream is over. Continuing to do church the way we have been doing it leads to only one thing:  death.

God has expectations: A missionary economy
And I will tell you that I believe that God expects something different of us and that God will recreate God’s church without us because God’s mission is sure. God’s intention in recreating this world is certain, and God does not depend upon us to see his vision of this creation through. But God has invited us to change who we are and how we are in the world to meet the challenges that are before us, to accept the invitation of his grace and wisdom and to be partners in God’s kingdom.

We must be about changing the world around us. Our new missionary economy must add value to the culture around us. We must be about missionary work of transforming the world around us—the environment, the economy itself—and the societies—our neighborhoods and our cities. People’s lives must be better tomorrow because our Episcopal Church is proclaiming the good news of salvation in work and word today.

Everybody says, “Oh, let’s look at Africa.” Well, let me tell you, in Africa, yes, they are preaching the gospel, but they are changing the world around them. That is why they are growing, because the people in those churches care and are part of the community and help the community be better tomorrow than it is today.

The economies that will flourish globally and in the United States in the 21st century will be ones that give life to people, to their community, to the environment in which we all live. We have to invest in relationship-oriented community and individual and environmental transformation. We must change the world around us.

We have an opportunity in a new missionary age to claim a sustainable mission deeply rooted in our values as Anglicans who are unabashedly Episcopalian. The world around us is actually waiting for us. They are hoping for partners who will join in providing healthy, fulfilling, life-giving, dignity-bound ministry to their communities. The world is looking for partners interested in building a more sustainable creation. The world is looking for partners who will nurture the relationships for better and more wholesome lives.

A moment of transformation
You and I stand at a moment of decision, and I as your bishop stand there with you. I am not going to stand up here and force you to live and do this new model, but I am not going to be quiet about what I see we as the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Texas must do to inherit the kingdom of God that is being offered us.

Now, lest we think we do this untethered from our scripture and our theology, lest we think that somehow we are just supposed to be a new social network, let us be clear that God calls us to build the kingdom of God together through worship, witness, and ministry. In the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, we are one church who is reconciled by Jesus Christ, and we are empowered by the Holy Spirit through worship, witness, and ministry. That is scriptural.

Our mission is oriented and deeply grounded in our theology. We understand that God provides—God, that united being, that holy community that we call trinity—creates all of creation and provides all things for us, that this community that we have as church is intentionally supposed to reflect all of God’s glory back to God’s self and to be about a sustainable creation that provides for every human creature around us.

You and I are responsible, as the scripture says, for the Lazarus at our gate. The scripture is very clear. We cannot turn our eye or our back on the communities around us, and we are to be about showing God’s glory out in the world. But you and I also both know that grounded deep inside of that scripture that you and I are broken and that we have a hard time doing it because when fear and anxiety and our basic needs are threatened, you and I together only want one thing, and that is what we want, that when we get into conflict and when we get off track, we immediately start becoming the narcissistic human creatures that we are.

There is a little story in the Bible called the fall that has to do with that, you see. And that’s why that reconciliation of Jesus Christ is so important, that Jesus came to help us, provide for us, the freedom through his death on the cross and resurrection and the power of the Holy Spirit to do the work we’ve been given to do, that we are given through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice the opportunity to join as partners with God in changing the world around us, which is what we were created to do originally, to be good stewards of God’s creation.

A vestry’s response
Now, what is your purpose as a vestry? The canons are really clear about your work. You are to take care of the temporal concerns of your parish or mission if you’re a bishop’s committee or vestry. That’s your job.

Property:  You are responsible for the construction, care, security, and maintenance of all property, buildings, and furnishings of the parish.

Stewardship:  The vestry is responsible for providing the resources necessary for the mission and ministry of the parish. Surely something is missing in that. It doesn’t have the word priest in there at all. The vestry is responsible for providing the resources. Okay, maybe that’s right.

Budget:  The vestry adopts and administers the budget and capital campaigns, endowments, etc. And legally, the vestry has legal responsibilities for the parish. In our current system, we think the canons tell us what we’re supposed to be doing. The canons ensure that the mission and ministry of the church are cared for.

This, my friends, is your minimum responsibility, not your maximum. The only reason to have a vestry in a community is so that the community may be intentionally focused on the mission of building God’s kingdom. These are the beginning points for you to lead your congregation out into the world, proclaiming the gospel, the good news, of Jesus Christ. It is your responsibility—your responsibility along with the clergy in your congregation—to realize God’s expectations given your missionary context.

What does success look like?
We know what success is going to look like. We will know that we are accomplishing God’s mission in our congregations when we are involved fully in ministry that transforms and restores, when we are changing the world around us, when your neighbors know you’re there.

Do your neighbors know that your church is there? Or after 20 years, do they pass by the sign and think nothing of it? We will know that we are making strides when we have exceptional stewardship, the stewardship of resources, time, and money that is entrusted to us. Exceptional stewardship, not the diocesan average stewardship. That’s not the goal.

When did the goal become the average? Did God say, “I will give you some of creation, just a little bit?” No. God gave you all of it. God made you and gave you everything that you are and everything that you have. God has given you your friends and your family. God has given and blessed you with everything. The average is not the goal, exceptional stewardship is. And then we will have excellence in mission, excellence in mission.

You and I are responsible for changing the world through our gifts and the resources given to us and by looking outside of ourselves to the world around us. You and I will know that we are making strides towards this not just when we have these big categories, but I actually believe that you and I will know because we will have more people in our churches on Sunday, for instance.

But that’s not the only goal. It’s not just that our average Sunday attendance in this church will grow but our attendance throughout the week will grow, that there will be more people, there will be more people who affiliate with our church every day of the week. That’s how we’ll know.

We will know that we are making progress when evangelism, the proclamation of the good news of salvation, and caring for others is the hallmark that we’re known for. When we talk to people in our communities, they will say, “That congregation knows the good news, and they make a difference in the world around us. They helped us with this.”

I mean, do you even know what your neighborhood is struggling with? Do you have a sense? We will know that we are making progress when we see baptisms and confirmations and receptions increase in the Diocese of Texas. But, more importantly, we’re going to know that we are making progress when more people are participating in evangelism and mission and discipleship in our communities.

We will know that we are making progress when every one of our congregations has the most welcoming, the most hospitable front door in their city.

We will know that we are making progress when the median age of our membership decreases to reflect your mission context in the world around you.

We will know that we’re making progress when our leadership, our clergy and laity, are younger and more diverse ethnically, when they reflect the diocese that is around us.
We will know we are making progress when existing congregations take the initiative for planting new congregations instead of believing somebody else is going to do that job.

We’re going to know that we are making progress when we see flourishing in the Diocese of Texas new fellowships, new missions, new parishes every year we’re able to talk at our gatherings about the new work that is happening, the entrepreneurial work that is happening, when we take more time in our diocesan council celebrating the good work that is happening in our diocese rather than arguing over the issues of the day. That’s when we’re going to know that we are making progress.

We will know that we are making progress when all of our organizations, congregations, institutions, and foundations are working together on healthy stewardship.

We’re going to know when we have an intentional diocesan-wide planned giving program that focuses its attention on providing for the stewardship of God’s gifts in every one of the congregations, that we understand our work isn’t to accomplish the stumbling blocks of today but build for the future of God’s kingdom tomorrow.

Have you in your wills made a planned gift? You’re investing Saturday at least, right? But you’re going to invest three years as leaders of this congregation, or how committed are you to seeing that your congregation lives long into the future, undertaking God’s program in this world? How committed are you?

Have you made a life gift, as I have, to this diocese and to your church? That’s when we’re going to know, when we all can say, “Yes, we have done that.” We will know when our congregations and diocese are willingly funding and supporting new emerging initiatives, crazy ideas and new ideas and dreaming about what we could be doing in our community, when there are more churches and more emerging communities, more schools and more clinics, more outreach ministries, more opportunities that we’re engaged in day in and day out.

We’re going to know when we have funded for the future as a diocese leadership training, when we have funded dollars to go into funding and helping provide partnership for new communities through a Great Commission Fund and when we care for our clergy and lay leaders through a Wellness Fund. That’s when we’re going to know that we’re making progress.

How do we get there?
We have to do some basic things to do that. We’re going to have to be very clear. We must be about formation. We have to form people who know and understand God as trinity. We must be about forming people who know and practice a healthy spiritual life.

We must form people who invite, welcome, and build community. We must form people who care about the world in which they live and are integrated into the life of the community. And we must form people who make a difference. That doesn’t happen naturally. As congregations, we must be forming people, as CS Lewis said, to be little Jesus Christs out in the world around them.

We must lead and be about leadership, not just clergy leadership but all leaders, lay and ordained, so that they are able to see the challenges as opportunities, to see the opportunities through the lens of an entrepreneurial leader who has a sense of how to take our excellence and stewardship and make a difference in the mission and ministry of the church.

We have also to be people who make connections, because we know that’s where the change happens. We must connect people with people, and this is your responsibility:  to build healthy networks of mission across your congregational boundaries and out in the world, building healthy networks that support individual vocations, building healthy networks between institutions and congregations, connecting people with resources that change their lives, connecting people with resources that change the communities around them.

The people called to be the Episcopal Diocese of Texas must do this work. It is perhaps our greatest challenge. We have not seen a missionary age of this magnitude since the very earliest days of this diocese when we looked outside our doors and our cabins and saw simply frontier land. That is the world outside of our church doors. We have a mission, and we know what we must do to get there.

In closing
I’m going to close with this. It’s a little piece of scripture. Some of you may remember it. It’s from Joshua, chapter 24. Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel—they make it pretty clear—from everywhere. There’s a long list of from everywhere. And Joshua gets them all together, and he summons the elders and the heads and the judges and the vestries.

He didn’t have vestries and bishop’s committees, but if he had, it’s clear he gathered them too. And he got them there, and he presented all of them and he said, “Here they are, God. Here are your people and the leaders of your people. They’re all right here, and we actually have a list. It’s a registration list, and we know who they are and where they belong.”

And Joshua said to all the people, “Listen to what God said.” We would say, “Look at what the scripture reminds us.” “God, our God, our God is the God of Israel, for long ago, back when our ancestors were wandering around, God took one of them, a man by the name of Abraham, from beyond the river and led him through all which way.

Do you know what Abraham did along the way? Every place he stopped he built an altar and worshiped God as he made his journey. And then he gave him a lot of offspring—lots. And Jacob and his children, they went down to Egypt. And then God sent Moses and Aaron and God brought them out, and then they lived in the wilderness for a long time.”

We won’t get into that journey, but it was a long time. And God provided for the people in their wilderness, just as God has provided for us in ours.

“And then God brought you to this land and God upheld you and God supported you in your mission and in your ministry and God gave you a land,” Joshua says, “that you did not labor for and towns that you did not build. But you live there now. You, leaders, have received the blessing of God, his vestries and bishop’s committees of churches you did not labor for in which you sit and you worship but you did not build. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive yards that you did not plant. God made way for you.”

And Joshua said to the people, all those leaders, he said, “You know all this. I’m not telling you anything new. And if you believe these things, you have to understand that you must be very fearful of the challenge that is before you. You should be concerned about this kind of God that you choose to worship and work for. In fact,” Joshua says, “you probably should not serve this Lord. You shouldn’t. It’s just too hard.”

Joshua says, “But as for me and my household, I will serve this Lord. I will serve this Lord.”

And the people answered, “No, no, no. No, wait. Joshua, no. We will. We’re going to serve this God. We promise we will.”

And Joshua said, “No, no, no, no. That’s nice of you. No, don’t really. You don’t really mean that, you see. You don’t understand what is at stake in the mission that you are accepting.”

The people said, “No, we’re serious. We will serve this God.”

You and I have a choice to make. We must choose in this moment and in every moment as we go forward to serve this God and this God’s church. We must not fear, we must not be anxious, we must not set our personal agenda above the transformative and creative and re-creative agenda of our God whom we know through the person of Jesus Christ. You and I have a choice. I’ve made mine. I’ve made mine. I will follow Jesus, and I intend to lead us forward.

But it is my dream—it is my dream and it is my daily prayer—that you and I shall be known as a generation who also chose to serve this God in mission, who at a time of great trial and a changing economy and a changing culture chose intentionally to follow God and were freed by God to change the world around us. We have an incredible opportunity as vestries and bishop’s committees of the Diocese of Texas.

We have an opportunity to beat our swords into plowshares and to sow the fields of the Lord with the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ so that when our time is over and we have labored in God’s field, we may hear his words to us, “Well done, good and faithful servants.” May we come to the end of our time as leaders with confidence and say, “As for me and for my house, I have chosen to serve the Lord.” In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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