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Become God's Steward

Bishop Hughes addressing Convention on Saturday. CYNTHIA L. BLACK PHOTO


"We're gonna have to get so good at beholding and so good at knowing our gifts and claiming them, that we're gonna have to actually be the stewards of God's church and God's ministry and our own gifts," stated Bishop Hughes in her second Convention address, given during the Saturday morning Eucharist. (Time: 31:28.)

Watch Bishop Hughes first Convention address here.

Video Transcript

Well I've been thinking about you. I thought about you last night. I thought about you this morning. And when I think about you I can't help but pray for you. And here's what I was praying. I was praying that some of you had a behold moment last night or this morning. I think there are probably people in the room who were not here last night – if you were not here last night would you raise your hand just so I have a sense of how many – okay. So I'm gonna have to go backwards for just a little bit before I go forwards.

So we talked last night about beholding God's gifts, and the importance of that word to catch our attention, and how it is used by God in holy scripture to point to something that is important. To let us know that if something is coming that we need to know about, or that there's information for us, or an instruction for us, and then when we get good at noticing those times, I call those behold moments. Those moments where God is basically saying, "Now listen. This is very important." This is very important. That's what we hear when we hear that word "behold," and that's what those moments do for us. It's God's way of catching our attention to say something is very important though it was asking God in the way that my friend used to tell me she has her behold moments back to God, where she says, "Now listen here God!" "I need you to get on this!" And I was beholding God right back, to get on this, and help us catch those moments even when we are here.

I wonder did anybody have a behold moment with hearing the Gospel in four languages. I mean good night. We have to do that because we worship in four languages every Sunday in this diocese. At least in four languages. This is very important. That is something that God wants to show us, is a gift that we have, that, that we see every day how to be with each other and how to honor each other's cultures. How to treasure that. How to cherish it. That is a behold moment.

The thing that I also said last night is those behold moments come all throughout our life and it is God's way of showing us God's love for us individually. And when we are feeling God's love, when we were experiencing God's love, when we see God's love, when we know God's love, it cannot help but change who we are. That we become somebody different, we become more like the people that God has created us to be. And that happens over a lifetime. I mean there are those people who have a thunderbolt moment where it changes them dramatically, but most of us, it happens over a lifetime. Behold after behold after behold we see God's gifts, we know God's gifts, we see God's love, we know God's love, and it changes who we are.

And I talked a little bit about Harriet Tubman last night, and I encourage you to see that film if you haven't seen that film, and I really encourage you to see it on the biggest screen that you possibly can and there's a reason for that. Because I think we don't quite understand even when we hear those stories about runaway slaves, or people who are refugees now that are running from one place to another. I don't think we understand running, running for your life. And when you see that on the big screen and when she hears "Run," when she gets that vision to run and she goes because she knows that voice, she's been beholding God for a long time in her life and she knows those visions. People, you know it's interesting we have spent a lot of time trying to figure out why did she have those visions. Was it the brain injury that she suffered, did those give her the visions? People said that to her 'cause she suffered from incredible headaches and seizures. And people would say, maybe your visions are a result of those seizures, and she's saying, you can think what you want to think, but I know God is talking to me, because otherwise how did she know how to run 90 miles in the dark without a map to freedom the first time. In the dark, in the woods. Now check – this my math is probably a little short because I checked this from South Orange last week, but Poughkeepsie is 80 miles from South Orange. Imagine running that through the woods in the dark guided by a star. Huh.

I wonder does anybody here when you think about ministry, when you think about how much people need Jesus, when you think about the state of your very own church and the wider Church. I wonder does anybody else here feel like we are running in the dark, through the woods, at night, without a map, but there is a star. There is a star to guide us. And for us a way to get to those stars is to notice those moments where we behold.

I'm also aware when I was thinking about you last night, I was aware that there got to be people in this room that heard that whole thing and went, "What is she TALKING about?" God doesn't never speak to me. I don't ever get a vision. If I knew which way to go and what to do I'd have done it already. So there is no shame in that. But listen! We are amidst the community of the faithful. And sometimes when one of us doesn't know, all the rest of us hold that person in faith until they know, on their own. So if you're one of those people that is wondering, what is that like to have a behold moment? How do I know that is God trying to catch my attention. If God would just say, "Now listen," and my three names, "This is very important," then I WOULD LISTEN! But I don't hear the "Now listen," I don't hear my three names, I don't hear "This is very important," and I certainly don't hear what's coming afterwards. So that's on the rest of the community to help teach you how to see in here. That's part of what we do for each other as we hold each other in faith that way.

And there are people here who have the gift of intercession. I wonder if you have the gift of intercession if you wouldn't mind raising your hand. Don't have to if it makes you creeped out. But if you have that gift of intercession, so there's people – if you take a quick look around the room – there's people all over the place that have that gift of praying for others. I wonder if there are people in the room that have the gift of faith. They just can't tell you why they know something is gonna happen, that God's gonna do it, but they know God's gonna do it. They just know it's gonna come. Those people that have that gift of faith can help us learn about those behold moments.

It might take some work, it might take getting intentional to turn off a device, turn off the television, put down the paper, stop watching the who are we gonna fight about and scream about being other today show – any news – to turn away from those things and to choose to spend some time in prayer or in Scripture. It might mean choosing going on retreat in order to get away and think on your own. There are retreats happening all over this area. We're blessed with that. There are so many convents and monasteries. You've also got some talented clergy leading retreats. There are ways for us to step away and experience that sense of knowing God, and knowing God's love, and being changed and shaped by God's love.

Now listen – this is very important! Now listen – this is very important. Only if you join me! Now listen! This is very important! It's the only way we will find our way to ministries that are needed in the time that we live in. It is the only way that we will find our way to ministries in the time that we live in right now. We're gonna have to get so good at beholding and so good at knowing our gifts and claiming them, that we're gonna have to actually be the stewards of God's church and God's ministry and our own gifts. The stewards of the community around us. The stewards of the church and what the church looks like going forward. The stewards of our finances and what we do with our finances going forward. The stewards of the environment and how we talk about living on this planet as Christian people. The only way we're going to get to those ministries is to spend so much time letting God change us that we actually know what our gifts are and that we steward our own gifts.

Let me unpack that word "steward" just a moment, because in the Episcopal Church we have done the word a disservice. We have so conflated it with what happens in October or November for five weeks that we think that is being a steward. Nope! That would be pledging. That's what we do. And my hope that those pledges are proportional and that you look at your household income and you give that way, that you know the percentage of your income that you're giving and I would hope that your church is at least competitive with your internet company or Starbucks or where you vacation. It's stewardship that makes us look at pledging and ask those questions.

Stewardship is what happens when God gives us something. All these gifts. Reading the, hearing the gospel in four different languages. Stewardship – God gives us something and then God says, "Take care of this for me. Take care of this for me so that it can be used for other of my people. So they can be used for those others, the ones that haven't found their way yet. Take care of this for me. We can look – when we, when we have a sense of who God is and how God is shaping us and changing us we can look at almost anything and ask ourselves the question, "How do we take care of this for God? How do I take care of this for God, and then use it to help God's people? How do I do that? If you have – I talked about the gifts of intercession of faith – if you have those particular gifts, and I'm not picking on those, they're just the ones that I said already, but if you have those particular gifts, and you are not praying routinely for other people – you're not taking care of that gift. If you're not encouraging others in the faith and you've got that gift of faith, and I don't mean being the kind of person who says, "Oh you just got to believe." What in the world is that? Oh you just gotta believe, God doesn't give you more than you can handle, in my world God does! Good night! Look at the things that we are facing! But I am talking about the kind of faith that walks alongside somebody and says, "I'm gonna stand here with you as you figure this out. And I can see God working in your life, because sometimes we can't see it in ourselves. And that person that has that gift of faith, is so good at encouraging it in others, that the way they steward that gift is to grow it and share it with other people so that they become strong in the faith. That's what stewards do.

Our problem with pledging is we've learned how to be dutiful, and we've learned how to be responsible. And when you think of God and you sit with someone who's gonna pray and they ask you how shall I pray for you, do you say ask God to be dutiful dutiful to me, ask God to be responsible to me. No! What what do we say? Pray for healing! Pray to save my child! Pray that I get this job! Pray that the drinking stops! Pray that they stay in rehab and it works this time! We want the whole thing when we turn to God. And as stewards of those gifts God has given us as we behold and behold and behold, we give the whole thing back to God. And what's so wonderful about God, we give the whole thing back to God and then God gives us – guess what – more. More faith. More ability to intercede. More ability to teach. More ability to lead. Makes us better administrators. God takes all those gifts and increases them in us.

Now I have got to say I'm really proud of some things. I really was using some preachers' hyperbole last night teasing about folks who look at me a little cockeyed when I say. "Tell me about your spiritual gifts." We've got parishes all over this diocese that worked hard in the last year on Gifted, Called and Sent. That spent time figuring out what their individual gifts are, and have identified them. And, what we are ready for in those parishes is to go the next step. To have people live fully into those gifts. Not enough to just know I have a gift, but to grow and use that gift.

That is the next step and that is the step for our entire diocese, because I keep coming back to this. I don't know how we figure out how to be the progressive church in 2020, unless we are filled with people who know how to do their ministry. Who know what they are called to do. Otherwise we still keep asking the questions from 1980, or 1990, or 1950. We still keep asking the same questions.

Every Sunday I spend time with congregations asking, who would miss you if you were gone tomorrow, and they tell me all the organizations that would miss them. And then we tally up the number of people that that would possibly be. I haven't met a congregation yet to do this exercise when it is fewer than 1500 people on a weekly basis that that congregation touches. Once we start pulling it apart with 12-step programs and backpacks and kids who are coming in for after school programs and reaching out to people, giving food to homeless, etc., North Porch, Family Promise, all of those things that we do. And we will talk about that and there will be some real understanding that, "Oh wow! Our ministry is bigger than the 53 people who were in church this morning. And I always say it like this: there were 53 people in here but there were 1553 represented, because those 1500 people belong. And every church has those people that belong.

But here is the heart breaker for me. We have that conversation, the lights are going off, people are excited, they're like yes all those people belong to us, get them on the prayer list, invite them to a special service, let's do things with those people. And then someone will inevitably say, you know we do all those things and they just are not coming to church. We have tried this and they're not coming to church. It's a 1980 question. It's a 1980 response where we were so desperately trying to reset the clock back to when the baby boomers hit churches. That was a blip, it came, it went, it's over. Those people that we touch that are not in our buildings they are a doorway for us to understand what church is going to look like in the 20s. The church is going to mean, how do we steward the community. How do we show that community that we love them. How do we figure out how that – and I am NOT saying that we're not trying to grow churches, because that also hit me. I thought, somebody has probably walked away from that hearing me say don't grow your church. No, that would never be this Bishop. I grew up in Texas, I can tell you what a big church looks like. And I lust after them. I really and truly do. I love seeing a thousand cars in the parking lot on a Sunday morning. That just – I could do my happy dance over that. That's not what I'm talking about. We're in a different time where the community around us desperately needs us and desperately needs our gifts and if our focus is completely on trying to be the past Church we can't figure out how to be the future Church.

Because we keep organizing ourselves around the past and for many of us that means we're organizing ourselves around the building. I know, I just sent everything to hell in a handbasket for saying that. But we organize our budgets around buildings and building needs and the question we need to be asking is, is this what we're called to do? Do we need all of the buildings? And for the person who just heard me say I'm closing churches – you did not hear me say that. Because I am NOT closing churches. But some of you will. Some of you will join in ministry with other churches and over time it will be clear that you don't need the cost of all those buildings, and make the decision that you want to devote your resources to the ministries you're doing, rather than the building. You know it's an interesting thing when you read scripture – because I know Episcopal buildings are pretty sacrosanct – I'm an Episcopalian, I have never not been anything else. I get it about the church building, I truly do, and I think sacred space is very important in a community. It's just how many of those sacred spaces do we need that I'll say, the Episcopal Church, in one small area. It's something for us to consider.

So I think that that space is very important but we can't get to asking the questions that I would say – for people who are troubled by asking the questions, please go to Scripture. Jesus invites us to go out and make disciples and says that he will be with us to the ends of the earth. He does not say I will be with you only in the Episcopal Church building. Go out to the ends of the earth. Part of what it's gonna to mean to be progressive church in the 20s is to ask the right questions. To ask the right questions about our ministries. To ask the right questions about our community. To ask the right questions about our environment. To put ourselves again and again and again in the presence of God so that we can be shaped in such a way that we are able to do the ministry that God has created us to do.

I don't know about you but I want to be that church. I want to be that church where we're asking ourselves why do we spend so much on buildings, and we say children and youth are the future of the church. Make sure – I hope we present a budget that puts youth and children's ministry front and center for this diocese, because here is the fact: not every church can afford that. But if you have a diocesan resource, we can resource those people in those churches.

I also, when I say I'm looking for dreamers and I'm looking for  people who will be courageous and I'm looking for people who will take a risk – I am NOT looking for 96 people in 96 churches to go in 96 different directions. We have this tendency of thinking we all fly solo. You know what's so wonderful about today? We're together! We are together and together we are stronger and more powerful and more able to do things than we are alone. I hope that next year when we come together for Convention that we are talking about churches who are partnering in ministry together. I'm gonna suggest that to some churches but some are figuring that out on their own, and have been doing that for a while and can be a model for the rest of us. I hope the Convention – that this time that we are together, that part of your behold moment is the new people that you meet at Convention. That you work at staying in touch with. Because let me tell you what, it is work to stay in touch. We have to make that decision. We have to make that choice. We make that a priority.

I hope that when we come to Convention next year that we're not focusing on people – good people who have gone before us – only for what they have done to change our church and to change Christianity. It's important to celebrate Marge Christie's life, it's important to celebrate Louis Crew Clay's life, it's important to celebrate Harriet Tubman's life. But I can tell you right now on these tables there are people who are called to do ministry that is just as and possibly even more vital right now, but it is going to mean running in the dark through the woods. But there is a light to follow, and I will join you in following that light.

I said yesterday the only thing we are called to do from Catherine of Siena, the only thing we are called to do, is to be the person God has created us to be and we will light up the world. Imagine northern New Jersey being the place that it can be, if we fully bring our gifts. If we can say behold every single day of the week and that we are the people God has created us to be. We will light up this land. Amen.

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