Near the end of the 144th Annual Diocesan Convention, Secretary of Convention John King asked for a point of personal privilege to address the Convention. Here are his remarks.
While technically speaking, this won’t be the last convention you preside over, at the conclusion of the next business session, this diocese will have determined a new focus as we start to write our next chapter. So it is only fitting that I pause now to mark this moment in our life of this convention and this diocese.
"May God give you grace never to sell yourself short. Grace to risk something big for something good. Grace to remember that the world is now too dangerous for anything but truth, and too small for anything but love."
– William Sloan Coffin
Mark, you have used this blessing throughout your Episcopate as a bidding for your flock in this diocese. But more than that, you have exemplified these commands in your actions, words and leadership as the tenth Bishop of the Diocese of Newark.
You have graced this Convention with the conviction to never sell ourselves short.
Calling us as a diocese, in your first Episcopal Address, into a deeper abiding relationship with God, to Stand at the Gates of Hope, to live as communities of faith that invite and guide people through the gates and to stand with the living Christ.
You have encouraged us to embrace the concept of ubuntu – I am because we are – the radical hospitality of embracing the stranger in our midst. To embrace the unique diversity of this diocese. The socio–economic and the cultural diversity that abides with us all every day. You have demonstrated to us the beauty of humanity, in embracing the radical construct of a triumvirate of friendship that is a blessing to you, and an example for us all – that of a Bishop, Imam and a Rabbi.
The Grace to risk something big for something good.
You have told us to not purely define ourselves in the traditional idiom of Episcopalians – I belong – and leaving it at that. You have challenged us to live deeper – to find out what we are called to do as Episcopalians. To take a more intentional risk, as you put it, and live into Christ’s mission.
You have called to us to risk something radical – to risk exposing our vulnerable humanity by sharing ourselves through our stories. By looking to make our personal faith, typically known to God alone, into an interpersonal strength to solidify our relationships within our communities of faith. By deepening our relationships with each other and celebrating the unique art of listening. Because it is in that listening that we are discovering the roots of what God is calling us collectively to do.
Grace to remember that the world is now too dangerous for anything but truth.
You’ve named the tipping point. You stated that business as usual is no longer an option. You gave us permission to let the old traditions of the way we used to do things give way because they aren’t sustainable, you let us know that it was okay to move on. Because we are entering a different time, where the church is swept up in a radically different social construct that no one has ever witnessed before.
Gun violence. You have been a leading advocate on a crisis of epic and tragic proportions that sadly grips our headlines everyday. You have help to convene and to lead Bishops Against Gun Violence, a network of 70+ strong Episcopal Bishops who advocate for sensible gun legislation, and identifies an unholy trinity of Racism, Poverty & Gun Violence, and ways to confront the epidemic. Speaking truth to dangerous times indeed.
And too small for anything but love.
You initiated an outreach campaign that in eight short years has become the ACTS/VIM fund for this generation of our diocesan giving. Having just eclipsed one and a quarter million dollars in funding of outreach – both domestically and internationally. It has had a profound impact on a wide spectrum of local and international funding. Because of in no small measure of the work the Alleluia Fund, there is a shelter in Essex County that provides emergency housing for LGBTQ youth who would otherwise face dire experiences in other less hospitable homeless shelters. Because of the Alleluia Fund, women in impoverished areas of Uganda have been given sewing machines and training to become tailors and seamstresses and develop a marketable skill to provide a means of support for themselves and their families. Because of the Alleluia Fund, North Porch has enough baby formula and diapers on hand. To assist meeting the needs of those it serves in many of our own neighborhoods. Because of the Alleluia Fund, people looking to seek a better life for themselves and their families in America have received legal counsel and other assistance while they are isolated in bureaucratic detention centers as they wait to be processed by a system that is mired in too much red tape and too little compassion.
We have been able to see through a lens that you have provided to us signs of God’s Grace in our everyday lives. To recognize, appreciate and share even the simplest of blessings that we might otherwise have overlooked. Starting meetings in my first few years on staff, I felt I needed to just pick something good that had happened, just to have something to say. But the more you led the exercise, the less canned my responses became, and the more appreciative of the almost daily minor miracles that I was beginning to truly recognize, and the more appreciative I became of everyone else’s around the table. It was transformative. It was sharing in each other’s’ stories. It was us being bound together on a deeper level than just co-workers. It was more about love.
You even took the world is too small part to heart – by deciding to traverse in a pilgrimage this diocese of ours. Over the course of a week, you and an intrepid band of travelers went from river to river, covering over 80 miles, walking, sharing meals, building community. This was living into the challenge of getting out from inside our red doors and walking our neighborhoods. And you walked yours, clear across the diocese.
Mark, Bishop Beckwith, Mr. President. As the Secretary of this body that I revere so much, I thank God that this Convention was guided by the Holy Spirit to elect you as our chief spiritual officer over 11 years ago.
Your passion has been forever contagious. You asked your staff to come with you on this journey of crossing the river, with both you and all of us knowing full well that it was going to go far beyond any of our job descriptions. It was a lot of work. A lot of work. In board rooms filled with reams of easel pad paper, covered in post it notes, trying to figure out how the business as usual – which had to continue – could be shifted and reconstituted to allow us time to focus on crossing our Jordan. We all knew that a lot of what we used to do still had to be done – there was no miracle fix for this. And you asked us each if we were willing to go all in, and jump into the river. And we all knew that, no, the other work wasn’t going away – we are still doing it – but this was important, and you worked just as hard with us to find how and where to cross.
And here we are, maybe not totally across the river yet – there are so many of us that have to cross. But you have helped to make us realize that yes indeed there are better lands across the river, and we will continue to move there – where relationships are more based in listening and sharing stories and are inherently stronger and richer because of this.
And on a personal note, you have gilded your pastoral credentials. The care you showed me, and my family when we lost the head of our tribe 4 years ago, staying in constant contact with me and my sisters while our father finished his journey doing Holy Week in hospice. It was so very comforting, and we all are eternally grateful. And then, the next year, when my life was derailed by a stroke, and you visited me in the hospital, and at home, and provided me the excruciatingly long time to recover, and the space to rebuild a professional existence and help to provide support for my family. No other job would have been as patient. But it provided me with drive and a purpose to not become a disability statistic, and in turn, I have decided to not be defined by what happened. These are just two of the myriad of stories that could be shared by many people in this room and all across this diocese. Bishop, thank you.
Mark, these are your stones. In times to come, these are the stories that will be told.
Mr. President, thank you for your time among us.