Transcript of Bishop Goff's Remarks for Clergy Call June 30

Bishop Goff opened with reading a prayer:

For the Interim Time - by John O'Donohue

Welcome

Yesterday on the weekly Bishops and Canons to the Ordinary Zoom call with the Presiding Bishop’s staff and Episcopal Relief and Development, we heard important information about singing in the time of COVID-19.

I ask Canon Mary Thorpe to share a summary with you. 

I offer some reflections. 

We are exhausted.  I say that not to be negative, not to encourage sadness or depression, but to name the reality.  Leading in this time of multi-layered challenges, in this interim time as John O’Donohue calls it, is exhausting. 

And we are going to be in this time for some time longer. 

I want to follow up on last week with encouragements about self care. 

Take your vacation.  I cannot stress that strongly enough. It may not look like any vacation you’ve ever taken before.  It may be, like me, that you’ll vacation at home where you’ve already been distancing for months now.  Still, it is vitally important to take time off.  Turn off all electronics during that time.  Rest.  Sleep.  Play.  Do things that rest and invigorate you.  The people you serve and minister with will be ok.  It’s gonna be different this summer.  You have earned and deserve your vacation.  Please take it. 

I’ve scheduled some vacation time this summer.  For ten days in July, Tom and I will visit Newfoundland – virtually.  Our first vacation together as a married couple was in Newfoundland.  We’ll read through the journal I kept during that trip, look at our photo album, eat lots and lots of fish, and watch movies that were filmed in Newfoundland.  We look forward to enjoying being away even as we stay home. 

Take your day off.  You have earned that and deserve it as well.  And it is God’s great joy to give us sabbath rest.  What we need to do is accept it. 

Set times when you will work and times when you will not work.  And turn off the electronics when you are not working.  I’m not a good example of that, I confess, but I am leaving my phone more and more in its recharging dock instead of carrying it around with me when I’m taking downtime.  We all need a break. 

If you don’t have a therapist, now is a good time to get one.  Our diocesan health insurance offers good support for behavioral and mental health care.  If you need additional financial help to get the support you need, don’t hesitate to be in touch with me. 

What other support do you need for self care? 

I invite us now to spend some time together reflecting on how we lead in this time of growing commitment to dismantling racism that we see around us in the church and in the wider culture. 

It occurred to me like a punch in the gut the other day that my exhaustion in this time of multi-layered crises and challenges is a short-term hint of the exhaustion my black colleagues and neighbors experience every day of life, because of the simple realities of living while black.  I name that with sadness and with hope that the realization will strengthen me to be a better neighbor and a better bishop. 

I have hope that this moment we are living in will be transformative.  We in the Church have been naming racial injustice for decades.  Of course, we have also been complicit through our history in some significant ways in maintaining racial injustice.  But I wonder what the Holy Spirit is up to now, and if we are at a threshold moment when commitment to anti-racism may be taking deeper root and spreading wider branches than ever before in the Church and in our wider American cultures.  I wonder if we are at a threshold moment of the kind we experienced a few years ago when marriage of same sex couples and rights for LGBTQ persons were finally recognized.  That work is not yet complete, of course, but after decades of hard work and struggle, change finally has happened.  My hope may be naive, but when I witness the energy of young people for justice, when I hear the outrage of people of all ages and backgrounds, even when I see the pushback, I am inspired and called to deeper action and witness myself. 

Here in Richmond, people have gathered around the Robert E. Lee monument every day for a full month now.  Some of the organizing groups have developed a platform calling for reform of policing.  Groups have gathered in Fairfax and Winchester and Manassas and other places across the Diocese.  The demonstrations have mostly been peaceful.

The General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia will meet in special session in August to enact legislation around the Coronavirus and policing reform.  I wonder if the peaceful demonstrations will continue until then. I wonder how citizens will continue to respond. 

As you know, I’ve written about some these realities we live in and expressed public support for removal of the Lee memorial, for reasons I wrote about in a letter to the Diocese two weeks ago.  I wrote a meditation about Black Lives Matter that was sent yesterday with a photo of the Black Lives Matter banner in front of our Diocesan offices at Mayo House.  Diocesan committees and organizations are engaging work of anti-racism.  The Committee on Priesthood is looking at its processes, structures, procedures and assumptions with an eye to racial justice.  The Executive Board will gather in a special meeting to examine how it is that the entire Board is white this year - that hasn’t always been the case.  The Board will talk about how we articulate the work of the Executive Board in such a way that people will be excited to be elected for this important ministry.

We’ve got work to do as a diocese, just as each congregation and organization in the Diocese has work to do. 

Some notes as you engage this work in your congregation:

At Convention last November I named four diocesan priorities for 2020 and beyond.  Reconciliation across differences, Creation Care, Evangelism and Resourcing God’s Mission.  We gathered across the Diocese in Visioning Sessions in February and early March to get wide input into developing this vision.  In light of those sessions and in light of the unexpected changes we have been experiencing since early March, I’m seeing those priority areas in a particular way now.  Reconciliation across differences, and particularly the work of becoming anti-racist, has emerged as the first among equals.  Or to put it another way, it has become the lens through which the other priorities may be seen.  Creation Care connects with racial justice because persons of color suffer disproportionately from the effects of changing weather patterns in the U.S. and around the world, just as persons of color contract and die from coronavirus in disproportionate numbers.  So our care of God’s creation intersects our work for racial justice.  Our commitment to evangelism also intersects with our work for racial justice as we long to be a Church that looks like the communities around us, and that looks like the Kingdom of God. 

Resourcing God’s mission helps to release the money and other gifts needed to do all of this work in Jesus’ name.  I and others on the diocesan staff team are working on a clearer articulation of our priorities for the moment in which we find ourselves. 

And some pastoral notes:

If you are exhausted, pace yourself. Leading during a time of dual pandemics, as some have called this time, is hard.  We are in this work of anti-racism for the long haul.  So it’s ok to pace ourselves for the ultra marathon ahead.

If, based on your prayerful theological reflection, you participate in actions of protest or witness for justice, be assured that I will support you should you receive push back. 

If, based on your prayerful theological reflection, you disagree with the actions of protesters and choose other kinds of faithful response, be assured that I will support you should you receive push back. 

Support in either case doesn’t mean that I will necessarily agree with you, but I will engage with you and with those who push back for the sake of Gospel. 

If, because of age or health or home circumstances you cannot be a part of public witness when you feel called to be, be assured that I understand the grief or frustration you might be feeling and stand with you in prayer.

Wherever any of us are theologically on these issues of race and justice, on public witness and police reform, let’s always engage each other in love as we walk in love with Jesus. 

So, what resources are you finding helpful in this work?  What support do you need from your bishops and diocesan staff?  What suggestions, challenges, or encouragements do you have to offer?  How can we as a diocese engage these matters more fully than ever? 

Q & A and Resources