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St. Thomas' Episcopal Church
315 Lindsey Street • Reidsville, N.C.

Bishop's Pastoral Address
191
st Annual Convention


The Pastoral Address of the Right Reverend Michael B. Curry
Delivered January 26, 2007 at the 191st Annual Convention
of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina 


  The Hands and Feet of Jesus

In the Name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus.
Matthew 14:29i

In the biblical imagination the sea is very often, as one scholar has written, "a symbol of turbulence and unrest."ii In Exodus, the Red Sea impedes the way to freedom until God makes a way out of no way. Jonah prays for deliverance having been cast into the depth of the sea. The poetry of the Old Testament frequently speaks of the Leviathan, the great monster who inhabits the sea, as the source of chaos in God's creation. iii Paul is shipwrecked at sea. And in the 21st chapter of Revelation when John sees a vision of God's new creation he rejoices that in that new creation, "the sea is no more." The sea is a symbol of turbulence and unrest, trial and uncertainty.

It is not just an incidental part of the travel narrative of the Gospel story that Jesus orders his disciples to cross the sea of Galilee, at night. In route, that sea, once blue and beautiful, turns troubled, stormy, dangerous and uncertain. Listen to the language Matthew uses to describe their situation. The boat was "battered by the waves. " They were "far from land. " "The wind was against them. " Does any of that sound or feel familiar? The mission of the church that would follow in the way of Jesus of Nazareth will always be at sea. I need only mention some words to evoke the sound of wind and the sight of wave for us. Iraq; 9/11; terrorism; global warming; Darfur; schism; Anglican Communion; genetic engineering; stem cell research; HIV AIDS; immigration; gay marriage; the wall, not in Berlin but in Bethlehem.

The disciples were battered by wind and wave. But my focus this morning is not on the storm at sea. That was the context. That was the situation, as it is for us. My focus in this address is on the Master and the mission of his disciples which is always engaged in at sea. For in the midst of this complex caldron of wind and wave, tumult and terror, the disciples saw Jesus, walking on the water. And, in addition to that, Peter walked on water.

All four Gospels proclaim the Lordship of Jesus Christ in stories about Jesus either walking on the sea or calming a raging storm at sea with words like, "Peace, be still."iv But only Matthew tells the story of Peter walking on the water as well. And in so doing Matthew has skillfully woven an essential message about discipleship and the mission of the church into this miracle of Jesus.

Consider what happens. First, in the midst of all that was going on Peter focused on Jesus. And that focus on the Master was the key to Peter's mastery of the storm. It was as Peter focused on Jesus, talking to him, interacting with him, relating to him, moving in his direction, that Peter found himself walking on water. When Peter's focus shifted from Jesus to the wind and the waves, from Jesus to the situation around him, he stopped moving toward Jesus, and he began to sink.

That faith focus on God revealed in Jesus is the key. The Archbishop of Canterbury, recently wrote that the very unity of the church is: "... a unity that fundamentally exists in the shared gaze toward Christ, and through Christ to the Father. "v That shared gaze toward Christ, that faith focus on Jesus who is the Christ, is the key. An old spiritual grasps this insight when it sings:

Got my hands on the gospel plough,
Wouldn't take nothing for my journey now.
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on, hold on.
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.

Peter was focused on Jesus. But the text doesn't stop there. In the 4th century, Hilary of Portiers, commenting on this passage, said that Peter found himself walking on water not because he decided that he would walk on the water, not because he set out to do something good or miraculous, but because he was "following in the footsteps" of Jesus.vi And in that following, he ended up doing what Jesus was doing, walking on the water. Without being aware of it Peter was beginning to act like Jesus.

That for Matthew is the heart of discipleship. In the 10th chapter of his Gospel, Jesus said: "A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave the master." vii Peter walking on the water is not about doing razzle dazzle, or hocus pocus. That, Matthew tells us earlier in the Gospel, is a temptation of the devil. viii Peter walking on the water is about Peter becoming like Jesus, doing what Jesus was doing, participating in God's mission in the world, becoming the hands and feet, the heart and the face of Jesus. St. Teresa of Avila said it so well.

Christ has no body now but yours
No hands, no feet on earth but yours
Yours are the eyes through which he looks [with] compassion on the world Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good
Yours are the hands with which he bless all the world.

Discipleship is about focusing on Jesus, following in the footsteps of Jesus, becoming his hands and feet in the world: loving as Jesus loves, giving and forgiving as Jesus gives and forgives, welcoming and including as Jesus welcomes and includes, doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God, like Jesus. And Matthew concludes his Gospel with Jesus saying: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations. Make disciples who make a difference. Be my hands, be my feet, and change the world!

 

II

Helping that happen among us is our great challenge, our urgent necessity and our high calling. And the next five to seven years will be critical. This is one of those periods when our actions now will have profound consequence for the future witness of the Episcopal Church to the Gospel of Jesus here in North Carolina. So how do we together as a diocese profoundly encourage, energize and practically equip our 49 missions, our 69 parishes, and our 7 chaplaincies and campus ministries to grow as communities where disciples of Jesus are made and sent forth to make who make a transforming difference, as the hands and feet of Jesus in the world? That is our great challenge, our urgent necessity, our high calling.

a. Gospel Based Discipleship

Our work to embrace the discipline and spirit of Gospel Based Discipleship is an important part of this. The practice of Gospel Based Discipleship is a way of intentionally focusing on Jesus, placing the Gospel of Jesus, his life, teachings and the reality of the Spirit, at the center of our lives. It is a simple and practical way to following the footsteps of Jesus and become his hands and feet daily.

We mailed Gospel Based Discipleship booklets to the 16,000 households in the diocesan data based with the daily Gospel readings listed. We will continue that as part of a shared practice and discipline among us. My hope is that Gospel Based Discipleship will grow as a shared practice among us: in meetings of vestries, gatherings of staff, in individual devotion. And this is just the beginning. My prayer is that this practice will encourage us to grow deeper in the ways of a relationship with the living God, through spiritual practices like the Daily Office, Centering Prayer, retreats, quiet days, Sabbath, spiritual direction.

b. Mission Initiatives

Last year at this convention you heard about the Mission Action Plan or MAP, adopted by the Diocesan Council in December of 2005. That mission plan was based on the work of the Mission Implementation Team who consulted widely with clergy, vestries present and past leaders in the diocese to discern how we can best move forward as a missionary diocese.

Now I know that we in the church sometimes have a habit of adopting plans, drafting mission statements, commissioning reports that in time wonderfully adorn our archives. And nothing different happens. That has not happened with the MAP. Later in this convention members of the Diocesan Council will share what has been accomplished in 2006 as phase one of the MAP.

Last May I presented a set of mission initiatives, drawn from the Mission Action Plan, designed to establish priorities for implementing the next phase of the Mission Action Plan over the next five to seven years. By the end of the year the Council had affirmed the initiatives with some revision, identified specific action steps for implementing them, and decided on a bold, responsible, yet realistic path for funding these initiatives. Members of Council and the Treasurer of the Diocese will share these details and the funding plans tomorrow in this convention. My purpose is to say something about the mission initiatives themselves. They are: 

  • Regional Based Ministry The development of a regionally based approach to providing diocesan resources, support and guidance for local congregations

  • Youth and Young Adult Ministry The deepening, development and expansion of Youth and Young Adult Ministry in the congregations of the diocese

  • School of Ministry The enhancement and development of the School of Ministry as a resource for programs of faith formation, theological education, leadership development and lay ministry training.

  • Gospel Based Social Ministry The expansion and deepening of our commitment to a vision of Gospel Based Social Ministry.

c. Regional Based Ministry

The first mission initiative is the development of a regionally based approach to providing diocesan resources, support and guidance for local congregations and clergy. The need for greater diocesan presence, involvement, and support to local congregations was identified in surveys of vestries and clergy as critical to building up the congregations of the diocese as places where disciples of Jesus Christ are truly formed in community and sent forth into the world.

Imagine the diocese made up of three geographical regions, with 35-45 churches in each. Imagine each region being served by a regional ministry team headed by a full time regional priest living and serving in the region, working under the direction of Canon to the Ordinary Michael Hunn. Imagine that ministry team, not only with the Regional Priest but with a part time regional youth missioner, and possibly a regional deacon serving to support Gospel Based Social Ministry in the region and congregations.

Imagine that in addition to bishops visiting congregations as they do, that during the course of a year congregations are being visited on Sundays and interacting throughout the year with members of the regional team. Imagine the potential impact on Christian formation, evangelism, Gospel Based Social Ministry and ministry with youth and young adults. Imagine the impact of this kind of intensive support and assistance over the next five to seven years. Imagine.

Imagine the potential impact on our congregations, and their impact on the culture and society around us. This is signal opportunity to profoundly impact the witness of this Church to the Gospel of Jesus, a witness that I believe must be heard in the public squares and in the private precincts of our lives. In the next few months the deans of the convocations will be asked to convene special convocation meeting to help in the identification and definition of these regions. I am asking you to participate and help us together to become the hands and feet of Jesus.

 

d. Youth and Young Adults Ministry

The next mission initiative is to deepen, develop and expand Youth and Young Adult Ministry in the congregations of the diocese. This diocese can be truly thankful to God for the longevity and quality of the conferences and camps sponsored by our diocesan youth ministry. And that ministry will continue. But most diocesan youth and young adult ministry is done in congregations.

Last year members of the Council, youth ministers in the diocese, the diocesan youth staff, focus groups of young people, campus chaplains and others participated in an in depth planning process with the assistance of a youth ministry consulting firm called Youth Ministry Architects. A plan for youth and young adult ministry was developed and adopted with some modification by the Council.

This plan includes the calling of three (3) part time regional youth ministers who will work primarily with local congregations on establishing, building and strengthening youth ministries in local congregations. A Missioner for Young Adult and Campus Ministry will be called. Again, this missioner will work in regions and congregations to assist in the development of ministry among young adults, and to provide coordination and support of our campus ministries and chaplains. We're talking about equipping a community of disciples who make a difference as the hands and feet of Jesus.

e. The School of Ministry

The next mission initiative is to enhance and develop the work of the School of Ministry as a resource for programs of faith formation theological education, leadership development and lay ministry training. Under the leadership of the Rev. Dr. Leon Spencer and the board the School of Ministry is becoming just such a resource. Let me cite just a few examples

Last year the School held a Wardens Conference at which some 60 Senior Wardens participated. Another is scheduled for this year for both Jr. and Sr. Wardens. Other leadership workshops for administrators and treasurers are being planned in collaboration with Canon to the Ordinary, Marlene Weigert. The School has provided several excellent Bible study resources; a study course on end of life issues; study materials on the Lambeth Commission's Windsor Report, a study course on the General Convention that was made available to all our congregations and used by many other dioceses beside our own. The School has teamed up with Global Mission and the Committee on Committee on the Millennium Development Goals to produce a study course on the MDGs. With the support of a grant from the Roanridge Trust the School is working on specific programs designed for small and rural congregations. We're talking about equipping a community to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

f. Gospel Based Social Ministry

A few moments ago we sang one of the great hymns of the Church.

Where cross the crowded ways of life,
where sound the cries of race and clan,
above the noise of selfish strife,
we hear thy voice, O Son of Man. ix

The next initiative is to expand and deepen our commitment to Gospel Based Social Ministry. Matthew's Gospel offers a helpful insight here. There are for Matthew two dimensions to discipleship. On the one hand, discipleship is following in the footsteps of Jesus, becoming his hands and feet, his presence in the world. But discipleship is more than that.

The parable of the Last Judgment in the 25th chapter of Matthew points to where our Lord's presence is found in the world beyond our hands and feet. In the cry of human need, in the ache of the human heart, in the faces of those downcast and in the lives of those outcast by any human decree or agency, there, in the brother, there, in the sister, we behold the face and hear the voice of Jesus. "When you did it to the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me. "

To be a disciple of Jesus is to follow in his footsteps, to be his hands and feet, his presence in the world, and at the same time, to behold and respond to his presence in my sister, in my brother, in the other. Sometimes that response takes the form of what we call outreach, sometimes service, sometimes the work of justice, sometimes works of compassion, sometimes it's just a matter of child of God just being a brother or sister to another child of God. But it is always for us following in the footsteps of Jesus, walking the way of the Gospel being and beholding the presence of Christ. That's what I mean by Gospel Based Social Ministry.

It is in that spirit, following in the footsteps of Jesus, that a tithe, or 10% of the mission and ministry budget of the diocese supports the practical work of Gospel Based Social Ministry in and beyond our diocese. And that is 10% over and above our full subscription to support the mission of the Episcopal Church nationally and globally.

It is in that spirit, following in the footsteps of Jesus, that the Diocesan Council has committed to invest a tithe or 10% of the corpus of funds being held in escrow from the sale of the Summit, in socially responsible financial institutions committed to community empowerment and economic development.

It is in that spirit, following in the footsteps of Jesus that Bishop Marble and the members of the Anti Racism committee have expanded and deepened our anti racism training and work in the diocese. The Rev. Hal Hayek, our ecumenical and interfaith officer, is continuing our ecumenical relationships and developing interfaith relationships with brothers and sisters of other faith communities. It is in that spirit, following in the footsteps of Jesus, that David Shubert and the members of the HIV AIDS Committee encouraged diocesan wide participation in the World AIDS Sunday this past December, and will be increasing our work of education, support and advocacy. It is following in the footsteps of Jesus that we have continued our full support of the work of Father Tony Rojas and the Episcopal Farm-worker Ministry, and that we have increased support for the pastoral and outreach work of the Chapel of Christ the King in the Optimist Park area in the inner city of Charlotte.

It is in this spirit we are moving toward fully embracing the work of the Millennium Development Goals. The intent of the MDGs is to make history by making poverty history, to garner the energies and resources of the human race to substantially reduce poverty, disease, environmental destruction, gender inequality, preventable suffering by the year 2015. Working to accomplish the Millennium Development Goals is for us a matter of practical discipleship living out the teachings of Jesus found in texts like the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, 6, and 7, and in the parable of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25. For us this is not just a matter of doing some good, this good is the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ.

 Thanks to our Global Mission Committee, chaired by Robert Powell, our Millennium Development Goals coordinator, Debra Smithdeal, the members of her committee, Dean Spencer and the School of Ministry we have identified a variety of opportunities that all congregations can participate in, in Panama, Honduras, Haiti and Costa Rica. With copies of this address you will receive a brochure and a bookmark outlining these opportunities and the MDGs. We can't do everything, but we can all do something.

 I invite each congregation, campus ministry and individual Episcopalian to give 0.7% to projects which help accomplish the goals of the MDGs. I invite each congregation to participate in at least one MDG project. I invite each congregation to send a representative to the workshop on how to educate your parish about the MDGs to be held on February 3rd at Holy Comforter, Burlington. We can't do everything, but we can all do something. And those somethings do add up and make a difference.

 The 7th Goal of the MDGs is to "ensure environmental sustainability." The film and book, An Inconvenient Truth, together with other recent films and writings, has increased popular awareness about the environment and our impact on it But even if we have not read the book or seen the film, we who follow Jesus, know what the Bible says in the first chapter of Genesis and the 24th Psalm teach. "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof" My grandmother used to sing a song that said: "This is my Father's world. " This is God's creation and to defile it and to desecrate it is sin, and a step in our own self destruction.

There are practical things we can do in our homes, churches and in our life styles that contribute to a sustainable environment. At the environmental stewardship table there are materials that provide practical suggestions of things we can do as individuals and as churches. We can't do everything, but we can do something. And those somethings will add up.

The 8th goal of the MDGs calls for the establishment of global partnerships for purposes of economic development and for purpose of nurturing human relationship that heal a hurting world. In that spirit we are continuing our Companion Diocese relationship with the Diocese of Costa Rica. We welcome Bishop Hector and Saundra Monterroso as our guests at this convention. The Bishop will speak at a workshop this afternoon and address this convention tomorrow morning. I look forward to joining the good people of the Diocese of Costa Rica at their convention later this fall.

 Further, with the support of our committee on Global Mission, and our companion diocese committee, chaired by the Rev. Sarah Hollar, I have been in conversation with Bishop Trevor Mwamba, of the Diocese of Botswana. He and the leadership of his diocese have expressed a willingness to enter into a process of exchange that can lead to a companion diocese relationship. I am, therefore, asking this convention's encouragement to take steps toward establishing a second companion diocese relationship with Bishop Trevor and the good people of the Diocese of Botswana.

g. Episcopal Assistance

As you know Bishop Gloster has now fully retired, effective January 1, 2007. I thank God for the ministry of Bishop Gary and Judy Gloster and bid God's blessing on this new chapter of their lives. Retirement can be a blessing and a new possibility. I am likewise thankful that retirement as Bishop of Mississippi brought Bishop Marble to us, and that he will continue with us as Assisting Bishop in Greensboro High Point Winston Salem area.

As I shared with you in my letter to the pre-convention meetings earlier this month I am asking this convention, in the words of the applicable canon: "to approve the creation of the position of Assistant Bishop and to authorize the Bishop to appoint a Bishop for the position, with the consent of the Standing Committee."x

An Assistant Bishop instead of being elected by the Diocesan Convention is an experienced bishop who is called and appointed by the Diocesan Bishop with the consent of the Standing Committee. The Standing Committee is directly involved in the discernment and interview process, and must give their consent to the person called.

This is a different approach to Episcopal leadership for us in North Carolina. It is occasioned by the particular missionary needs of this diocese at this moment. Implementing the mission initiatives that I have here outlined over the next five to seven years, is going to require a significant concentration of our energy, time and resources. All who have been involved in moving us in this missionary direction can attest to the time and energy which has been required thus far. Electing a Bishop Suffragan would require a similar amount of time, energy and resource. It seems most prudent, if it is at all possible, to concentrate our energies on implementing the mission. Recognizing this the Mission Implementation Team encouraged consideration of this approach when they made their report to the Council in 2005.

In seeking an Assistant Bishop it is my desire to call a bishop, who brings the skills, gifts and experience in leadership, organization and administration to assume Episcopal oversight of the implementation of the Mission Action Plan over the next five to seven years. In anticipation of the need for a second full time bishop the Diocesan Council has provided funding for the same in the proposed mission and ministry budget.

One of the important contributions of the MAP is that we have built in processes of shared ministry review, to review our progress, make mid course corrections, and to plan intentionally for the next steps and phases of mission development. We will continue that kind of shared ministry review and planning which will help us plan for the shape of Episcopal leadership needed in the future beyond this next phase of the mission. The point in all of this is to allow the mission to determine our direction.

In this I have consulted with the Rt. Rev. Clay Matthews of the Office of Pastoral Development of the House of Bishops. I have been in conversation with and we have considered several possible candidates. The Standing Committee has been closely involved with this process every step of the way. I am very hopeful that, with your permission, we will be able to bring a person who can truly join us a partner in making this mission a reality.

III

Lastly, as you may know, after the sale of the Diocesan House on St. Alban's in 2005, we leased space in downtown Raleigh. We have now lived in that space for almost two years. We have discovered that the building, the space and the location work for us. At my request, after a thorough review and study of options and alternatives, and after the development of a business plan for this purpose, we made an offer for purchase of the building. The offer was accepted, and we are in the final stages of purchasing this property.

The decision to relocate the diocesan offices downtown was not accidental. It reflects my belief that the seat of the bishop of the diocese should be in the center of the city, as a visible and tangible witness to the Gospel by the Episcopal Church. This is one way to plant the cross of Christ at the crossroads that is our state capitol, where laws are made and business is transacted.

Our Diocesan House is located one block from capitol square, near Christ Church, across the street from the Church of the Good Shepherd just down the block from the Good Shepherd Soup Kitchen, in walking distance from the capital complex, and not 5 minutes from St. Augustine's College and St. Mary's School. This is not just a matter of brick and mortar, this is a strategic investment of the church in the future of the city and a practical witness to the Gospel by the Episcopal Church. It is part of being the hands and the feet, the presence of Christ in the world.

Never underestimate the power of a witness. Jesus said to his first disciples:

"" You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. "xi In the late 1930's a black woman and her little boy were walking down the street. A priest, who was white, was walking passed them in his cassock with a hat on his head. As he approached the mother and child he tipped his hat as a gentleman would do passing a lady in those days. The little boy never forgot that. Years later he would recall the experience in these words. "You could have knocked me down with a feather ...He doffed his hat to my mother. Now that seemed a perfectly normal thing I suppose for him, but for me, it was almost mind-boggling, that a white man could doff his hat to my mother, a black woman, really a nonentity in South Africa's terms. "xii

The priest was a missionary monk of the Anglican Community of the Resurrection. But that day his hands that tipped the hat were the hands of Jesus. And he was responding to the presence of Jesus in a woman and her son. And I would dare say that that little act helped to change South Africa, long before anyone ever knew. For the little boy walking with his mother was Desmond Tutu. Never underestimate the power of a witness. The 12th chapter of Hebrews says it this way: "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let is also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. "xiii

Let us leave this convention re-dedicated, re-consecrated and re-committed to the work of making disciples of Jesus who make a difference in the world. Let us go forth as witnesses to the remarkable reconciling love of God that we know in Jesus. Go and witness to the justice and the compassion and the forgiveness of God. Go and help God end the nightmare and realize God's dream. Go and be the hands and the feet, the face and the arms of Jesus in the world.


iMatthew 14:22-33

ii The New Oxford Annotated Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), commentary on Revelation 21:1

iii See for example, Job 41:1; Psalm 74:14; Psalm 104:26; Isaiah 27:1. The other references mentioned are from Exodus 14; Jonah 1:15; Acts 27:13-44; Revelation 21:1

iv See Mk. 5:35-41 and 6:45-52; Lk. 8:22-25; In. 6:16-21

v Rowan Williams, Where God Happens: Discovering Christ in One Another (New York: New Seeds, 2005), 112-113. The complete quote continues: "... a unity that fundamentally exists in the shared gaze toward Christ, and through Christ to the Father. Ifwe believe that our unity comes from that looking together into a mystery and occasionally nudging one another and saying, 'Look at that!' it can help us feel how the unity we enjoy is not primarily about institutional uniformity, saying the same words all the time. The unity is found in the common direction we are looking. "

vi Manlio Simonetti. editor, Thomas C. Oden. General Editor, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Matthew 14-28 (Inter Varsity Press, 2002), p. 14

vii Matthew 10:24

viii see Matthew 4:1-11

ix Hymnal 1982, #609 Frank Mason North (1850-1935)

x. Constitution and Canons 2003 (New York: Church Publishing, 2003), III.21.1

xi Acts 1:8

xii John Allen. Rabble-Rouser For Peace: The Authorized Biography of Desmond Tutu (New York: Free Press, 2006), p. 26

xiii Hebrews 12:1-2


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