Read the Visioning Plan
Watch the presentation
Remarks by Bishop Ian T. Douglas made during the annual meeting
In the name of the one holy and triune God, Amen.
This will not be a sermon, so rest assured. But I do want to take this opportunity and share, just a little bit, on my sense of what God might be up to here at Trinity Church in Newtown. And, dare I even say, in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut. And the close connection between what you are doing here in your visioning work, Kathie’s upcoming sabbatical and the changes that God is inviting us to be about in the wider church.
It was I think about 20 months ago perhaps? Early in 2014 that your vestry invited me to come down and spend some time with the vestry in a vestry meeting. Now, this wasn’t the first time I met with your vestry, and it was a joy and I said, “Of course”.
And the question before us that the vestry raised was fundamentally, “What is God up to?” What is God up to here at Trinity Church? What is God up to in Newtown and how are we called to be more faithful to that work of God in the world? And so your vestry said, “Ian, can you help us with some consultants? Someone to walk with us in that process of discernment?”
And I said to the vestry I can see consultants going in three different directions. One, I could imagine a consultant to work with you on your continued healing in the wake of the tragedy of Sandy Hook. A second opportunity would be a consultant who might come and work with you in, dare I say, classic congregational development—strategic planning. You know the drill. You’ve done that many times in the past.
Or perhaps a third kind of consultant that you might engage is a consultant that begins with the question, “What is the mission of God and how are we called to participate?” The third option, which is a much more wide ranging and, dare I even say, radical exercise, where everything gets put on the table, is the scary, risky option.
And which one did your vestry take? The third, of course! And so your visioning team working with Dr. Craig Van Gelder, a colleague and friend of mine who is actually working across our diocese with others in what is known as the “MIssional Network”, began walking this path with your visioning team. And what you have here before you today is the invitation to follow God on a journey into the newness of what God is up to in the world.
Now why is that important to journey with God into the world in new ways? Well, sisters and brothers in Christ, it’s important because God is a living God who always proceeds us. Is always about newness. Is always about possibility. Our God that we follow on this journey is fundamentally about change. And boy, is there change happening in the world and in this church.
For a lot of our lives, as I look around this congregation, not exclusively, our lives were gifted with the privilege and the power of what is known as “Christendom.” As if we lived in a Christian culture and the church was part and parcel of the established fabric of our lives. Many of you probably remember what that was like: blue laws, no soccer on Sunday mornings, everyone would go to church, everyone. We could just assume in our settledness that the church would continue. We were at the center, we were privileged, we were powerful, we were a significant and stable institution.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, that is no longer the case. That is no longer the case. The church has moved from the center to the margins, from privilege to plurality, from institution to, as our presiding Bishop says, “A Movement.” A Jesus movement. And so your vestry, in this visioning process, acknowledged these changes in our lives, and basically said, “OK God, what would you have us do now?
That’s what this visioning process has been about. That’s what we are being invited into in this process. And it’s a process that is going on all the way across the Episcopal Church is Connecticut. There is no stone left unturned in our common life in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut. You are not alone in this visioning work. You might be a little bit in the front end of the pack, but it’s the work that all 168 gathered bodies, parishes in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut need to be about.
And it’s the same work that all your leaders, lay and ordained, need to be about. And here I want to talk a little bit about PK’s faithfulness. Because she too in her sabbatical is doing the same work personally that all of you are doing in journeying and following God on this journey. This week is Kathie’s 20th anniversary of being your rector. When she arrived 20 years ago, Christendom still had a lock. And all along the way Kathie has been an incredible and faithful rector, asking the right questions and being at the right place in our lives and in this parish.
And dare I say, that as your bishop and her bishop it is my job to ensure that clergy stay healthy and whole and in there for the long haul. That’s why we have sabbaticals. And truth be told, ever since I arrived here I’ve been asking Kathie when is she was going to take her sabbaticals. Clergy are supposed to take sabbaticals every five years. Well, save for 18 days in the last 20 years, Kathy has not taken her sabbaticals.
So it really was at my initiative that I suggested that Kathie, because she is faithful in journeying with God, to take a sabbatical. In fact take a double sabbatical. It’s still only 50 percent of what the parish owes her. And Kathie, in her faithfulness, said “Yes.” Yes, I will take sabbath time to be with God. Take a break. That’s vitally important. And also to ask, “O.K. God where are you calling me and this congregation to journey?”
So the work that you will be doing in this visioning, following God on the journey, Kathie will likewise be doing for herself. Can you see the giftedness of this time? It’s incredibly exciting.
These are not times to be afraid. These are not times to wring our hands about the loss of the church, or the world or the ministries that we thought we had. These are not times to sit on our hands and not trust in God and God’s invitation to us. To be about the mission of God and the world, to be agents of God’s change. That’s the invitation.
Now, sometimes we don’t want to be agents of change. Sometimes it’s easier and perhaps more secure to stay in the status quo. Sometimes we think it might not be our time. That’s what happened at that wedding in Cana, right? Jesus on the front end of his ministry in the world, on his following God on the journey, is at that wedding and the wine runs out.
And his mother comes over to Jesus and what does she ask him to do? Solve this circumstance. Step into this place.
And what’s Jesus response? What does Jesus say? It’s not my time! It’s not my time. And Jesus is faithful and that’s when we have that first miracle, the changing of the water into wine.
Now, this parish can respond and say it’s not my time. It’s not what your vestry did when they chose a mission-based engagement. Or Kathie could say it’s not my time. But that’s not what she is doing by going on sabbatical.
It is our time. It’s each and every one of us as baptized Christians. It’s our time to be about what God is doing in the world. Each and every one of us by virtue of our baptism is invited to follow God into the neighborhood, traveling lightly and being about that restoring, reconciling action of God and Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit.
That’s what it means to be church. And that’s going to have more meaning and more emphasis as Christendom continues to fall down around us.
So sisters and brothers in Christ, I thank God for you. I thank God for Trinity Church for the way you’ve been about historically and this day the healing, restoring, reconciling action of God in the world.
And I thank God for Kathie and Shep and the way they have pastored and have been here with you continuing in this process and will be here to continue asking what does God want us to do and to be.
It’s an incredibly exciting time to be a follower of Jesus. It’s an incredibly exciting time, dare I say, to be an Episcopalian. It’s an incredibly exciting time in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut. And it’s an incredibly exciting time to be part of Trinity Newtown and this time as you are following God on this journey.
So thank you. Thank you for your boldness. Thank you for your faithfulness. Thank you for your willingness to follow God. And thank you for including me in this very important day. This day where you celebrate and actually say, “Yes this is our time.” This is our time to be about God’s mission in the world. So thank you. Thank you and may God bless you as you continue to follow God on this journey.