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Christ, Collaboration, Courage

Bishop Hughes' address at the 149th Convention

In her Friday evening address to the 149th Annual Convention, Bishop Hughes talks about three things God has been doing the last three years: Christ, collaboration, and courage. We've learned to experience Christ in new ways. We've learned to collaborate instead of working alone. And we have been, and continue to be, courageous. (Time: 24:07.)

Video Transcript

So let's talk about where we are as church, and where we are as the people of God. And what is happening to us and how we are supposed to think about all of these things. Because you'd have to have your eyes shut, and your fingers in your ears and be paying absolutely no attention to know that people aren't going to church the way they used to go to church. By the way, they're not going to synagogue the way they used to go to synagogue. By the way, they're not going to mosque the way they used to go to mosque. By the way, they are not joining Scouts, the Rotary Club, bowling, any of the kinds of joining leagues that we used to do, people are not doing that the way they used to do it. And that started decades before pandemic. Decades before pandemic.

So when we sit in our parishes on Sunday, and we go, "When are they coming back? When are they going to get off Zoom?" We're gonna have to make our peace that some can't come back, number one, because people are still getting COVID. And if you've got immuno issues at all, you cannot come back right now. And some are not coming back, because during this time, they discovered something else that gives them the sense of peace. That's what I used to hear from you the most my first year and a half here, why church was so important to you: "Because on Sundays, I receive Communion, and then I sit in my pew, and I feel peace. And at least once a week, I need that sense of peace. And I hope that it will last me all week long until I get there on the next Sunday, and then I can get some more peace. But if I missed then I'm kind of out of peace. I'm kind of stuck and on my own."

People have found another place to get peace. Yoga, hiking, bagel and the Times – people have found other ways to get peace. So this sense of pressure that we're feeling, how do we get them back? What do we need to do? What's the right program? What's the right preacher? What's the way to get young families to come? How do we make that happen? We need to let that go. We simply need to let that go. God is already doing something in the church. Some things are dying. Some things are dying, so something new can come into being. It's a resurrection story that we are in the middle of. You cannot have resurrection if something old or dying does not go away. You cannot have Jesus without resurrection. You cannot have the transformation without resurrection. We cannot get to the new church without resurrection.

And everything we need to be that new church, God has already put in our hands. We have been experiencing it over these last three years. We have been experiencing it. People keep asking me, when are you going to give us the vision? When are you going to fix the churches? It's usually someone very sweet that saying it to me. They don't push like that. They kind of hold my hand and say, "I'm waiting for you to fix our churches." They're very sweet about the whole thing. People keep wanting that from me, and I am looking around this and saying, "God's already doing it."

We have to open our eyes and see the part that God is doing. Three things: Christ; second, collaboration; third thing, courage. They have been happening for these last three years. We have been discovering Jesus in new ways. We thought the only way we could experience Jesus was at communion, where we got that sense of peace. That had to be the only way we could receive Jesus. As a matter of fact, I know there's at least one person at one church who's mad at me, because I said, Jesus comes in many ways, communion is one. But you can receive or be in the presence of Jesus in many ways, Jesus is not limited to any one thing. Now, we might want to limit our experience of Jesus. But that does not mean Jesus is limited, because we have just tried to define who Jesus is. But we've had an experience of Christ over these three years.

I want to remind you of some things, and I have them written down and my glasses on so that I can actually read them. One of the things that you did, everyone in this room in some way, helped to keep the clergy of the Diocese of Newark alive. These three years. There are story after story that clergy shared with me, and that I know about, where members of congregations said, do not come to the hospital, do not come to our home, we can do this on FaceTime, or on Zoom, you can say the prayers, they count still, we do not want you to put your family at risk. We only lost one clergy person to a COVID-related illness, in these three years. And as I say it he was 84 years old, and I'm not sure he should have been in a parish. And as his friend says to me, "Father Shearer died doing what he wanted to do. You need to make your peace." So I keep trying my best to make my peace with that because I feel like I didn't protect him enough. But you protected the clergy of this diocese. That was one of my first fears when this all happened. That was a selflessness that comes from Jesus. That was a selflessness and ability to care for them, that comes from God. Our being transformed at the point where we should hold on to people more tightly, you gave them freedom and encouraged them.

The number of laity who stepped into new roles. How many people – raise your hand if you've been leading the Daily Office, any part of it: Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayer, Evening Prayer. If you ‐ keep your hand up ‐ if you go to a parish where a lay person is leading those services? Also raise your hand. Was that happening four years ago? Not to this level it wasn't. How many of you are either preaching as a lay person or have lay preachers in your congregation? How many of you have lay people who have been taking the lead with pastoral care in these three years? We've been calling people, visiting people in hospitals, taking communion home to them? That – doing those things – that is Jesus in us that makes us care to that ability. And for a person who's never done those things, that takes courage. It takes courage to step into something new. Every time a person preaches for the, for every person that preaches for the first time, preaches scared. They are convinced that they're going to say it wrong. They're convinced that people aren't gonna like it. Doesn't matter if you're lay or ordained, you preach scared until you get more used to preaching. It takes time to get that way. That was courage that was happening.

I'm really also aware, and it's rare that I name people because I think everybody is doing something really wonderful in this diocese. But there was a time right there at the beginning where we really didn't know what we were doing at all. Like how many of you have screens in your churches right now. In an Episcopal Church! Screens! I know people who are going to rise up from the grave and come and get us. Screens in our churches, they said it would never happen, that hell will freeze over first. That that would not ever happen, but it happened. But in those days, we really and truly did not know what we were doing. And when it came to technology, Bill Allport, who was – it wasn't that he knew everything – but he gathered a group of people to meet every week online and talk about how it was going. And Miguel Hernandez gathered the people who were dealing with food insecurity, to talk about how it was going. And Mark Collins, gathered the people to talk about schools, and how it was going. And suddenly, we weren't trying to figure out technology on our own. We weren't trying to figure out food insecurity on our own. We weren't trying to figure out schools on our own. We were collaborating. We were in it together. We were figuring it out together. And it is less scary together. And you discover things together. It's easier to be creative when you're creative with a group.

And I love at one point, I don't know if this is still happening, but at one point when food was so tight, the food banks were not able to get food out to where they needed to get to. But our food pantries would communicate with each other. And one would call one and say listen, I have no diapers. And they say we need we have extra diapers, we also have chicken we don't need, could you use some chicken with the diapers? And food got where it needed to get across the diocese because we were in collaboration.

We're gonna talk about funding. John Gard talked a little bit about it, about the Trustees providing those loans to parishes, to get some money into people's hands quickly. I also want to talk about the folks who steward the Marge Christie Fund, and the grants for that fund, that made the decision that it would be helpful to put money into the hands of parishes so that they could buy the A/V equipment that they need to get. That was courageous. Sometimes, we can be very funny about money in the Episcopal Church. We are generous, generous, generous, until we think you're spending it the wrong way. Or we don't like how you're doing it. Or that money was dedicated to Project X and you just moved it over to Y. And this was definitely one of those situations. And they had the courage to say, we're going to expand the parameters of this grant to help parishes get the equipment that they need to do ministry online. It's got to happen, it's got to happen now, it's got to happen fast, and they made it happen.

Can I talk about musicians? How many of you in these three years had a musician that was sending music, either online for you to learn or a tape for you to learn so that you could join in singing, for the rest of the congregation? How many of you had – keep your hands in the air – how many after that, had musicians who created a video of singing that they would put out to everybody? And then how many of you took part in, there was a diocesan-wide video that happened, we had people singing from different congregations. I think that was for Easter one year. Again, collaboration, working with each other, doing things that we had not done before. It takes courage to step into things.

I think the place where we've seen our courage the most, most certainly, is around the troubles that we have experienced with racism, with white supremacy, with gun violence, with police brutality and with anti-semitism. These kinds of growing concerns. There are so many that you can get to a place where you think, what difference can I make? What difference can my parish make? It's happening so much I don't have enough energy to keep caring, that we have compassion fatigue, that we're tired, this has gone on a very long time, enough is enough. I tried, I did my book study, I took Sacred Ground, and it's still happening. I have my orange ribbon, or my orange stole, and it's still happening. I make sure that I touch base with the local synagogue, and that the rabbi there knows that they have my support, and it's still happening. And it takes courage to stand in the midst of "it's still happening," and ask ourselves and ask God, and what will you have me do now? What would you have me do next to continue to show up. Because for the people that these things are happening to, they don't get to take a day off. You cannot – I can't take a day off from my black skin. Every single day of the week it is still right there. Our Jewish siblings can't take a day off from being Jewish. Our LGBTQ siblings – especially trans folks who seem to have been selected for a special brand of violence, and let's say be black and trans – it's as if a group has decided to home in on them. They don't get to take a day off. And until we get to the place where they can take a day off, we don't get a day off. We keep on going.

I say all this not to say how wonderful we are. There are things that are wonderful. You know, this is like the best spot, I wish you could all come and stand here with me for a little bit. Because I can see you all, and I love you so much. And just seeing your faces and to know what God is doing in you and with you and through you, it is a gift to be here standing with you. I think you're wonderful. But it doesn't mean we get everything right. And it doesn't mean there's not work for us to do. So I say all these things, I remind us of all these things, not just because I think you're so wonderful. But because I am convinced God is already changing us and changing the church. It is already happening. Recognize this friends, Jesus has been walking with us. We have gone from being a church who looked to church as a place to receive our peace only. And the thing that people say to me so often now is, when I leave church, I feel ready to face what is out there. I feel strong, I feel confident, I feel ready to face what is out there. That is a very different thing than coming to church for peace.

Listen, so for the person who's going, my life is hell and she just took my peace away. I'm not trying to take your peace away. I want you to have that sense of peace. But there is a greater sense of peace, when we are confident that Christ is changing the world around us by moving through us. That's a kind of peace that is priceless. We already have that. You already have been collaborating with each other. It is just like Chip Stokes just said, it is the future, not just for the church, but for everybody. We will have to be in collaboration with each other.

Go back to those geese again that we were talking about. Figure out your spot in the V formation. And remember that we are always lifting each other up. We're always getting that little bit of assist from the velocity and the speed of the person in front of us, along with us. And somebody is going to be the lead goose for a while, but they're gonna get tired and then someone else will move into that position. That's what happens when we collaborate.

I'm gonna say something. I'm gonna really go Baptist on you and I've never been Baptist in my life. Ever. I pride myself on that. It was a part of country I was born in. Now I was proud of being an Episcopalian in Fort Worth, Texas. I'm going to say something, I'm going to ask you to repeat it. And then I'm gonna say it again and I'm gonna ask you to repeat it. I'm gonna say it again, and then I'm going to ask you to repeat it like you really mean it with all your heart and soul. Are you ready? I am courageous. I am courageous. I am courageous. Grab ahold of that. Because we are living in a world that is dangerous right now for so many groups of people, and there is no room for us to be compassionately fatigued. When that comes up the response to my fatigue is, I am courageous. And that God is giving us what we need, in order to do the work in front of us. That there cannot be the sit around in silence, there cannot be waiting for the next book study. If you haven't taken Sacred Ground, you need to. But we can't keep falling back. We must press forward. We must press forward. It's what courageous people do. They keep moving forward.

I have you say, I am courageous, so when I think of you, when I describe you, I said – somebody just asked me, they're interviewing for a position here in the diocese, and they asked me, how's the Diocese of Newark, and I said – well, they're coming from the south – it's not the south, it's the northeast, there is no social capital in going to church here. You don't go to church because you're trying to grow your business, in northern New Jersey. If you're going to church it is because you want to be in church. And I said, these are people that recognize there's a level of anxiety and depression and fear and danger around us, and they are doing something about it. And if that draws you, maybe you belong in the Diocese of Newark, but we're not going to sit around and be polite about it. Because we have work to do.

So when I have you say "I'm courageous," I'm not being cute. I hate it when people tell me I've done something that is cute, because I'm not a cute girl. I never have been, not in my entire life. I don't do cute. I do direct. That's what I do. I'm telling you to say "I'm courageous," because it's how I describe you. There is quite a lot before us. I'll talk more tomorrow about how we get there specifically. But the thing that I want you to walk away with tonight, after the three years that we have just been through, that you have come to know Jesus in new ways. Being with each other, being in the prayer closet in your house, leading prayers, praying for somebody else, being prayed for by somebody else, sitting with scripture. You have found Jesus in new ways that you had not experienced Christ before. Christ is not leaving us right now. You have been collaborating all through these three years. Churches that have been in competition with each other, for decades, have been working together and we're going to be doing more of that and working with faith organizations that are around us. You have already been collaborating, and, you are courageous. Does anybody have anything to say to me? ["Amen!"] That's not what I was looking for. ["I'm courageous!"] Amen.

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