Bishop Gulick's Report

Bishop Johnston, Bishop Dixon, Bishop Jones, my sisters and brothers in the Diocese of Virginia: it is a wonderful joy and a great privilege for me to give my first report as the assistant bishop. The first words out of my mouth really need to be a profound “thank you” to you Shannon for trusting me to share episcopal ministry in this diocese. I have loved this first year among you.

It was an interesting staff meeting a couple of months ago when we were beginning to look at the schedule for Annual Council and I was sort of laying low like Br’er Rabbit, and then suddenly somebody said “Oh yeah, I think we’re supposed to have a report from the assistant bishop.” And then, that sort of got worked into Saturday, as I recall. And then, the staff of the Diocese, being what they are said, “And yes, Ted, your report should be about two things: campus ministry and Shrine Mont.”

Here we go:

One of the greatest joys of this first year of ministry has been my visits to our campus ministries. I have celebrated the Eucharist, shared meals and had the profound experience of young, college-aged Episcopalians sharing their very lives with me. It goes something like this: As soon as I get home on a Sunday evening, I look at my -email and I get a student saying, “Bishop, you need to arrange a silent, Benedictine-style retreat at either Roslyn or Shrine Mont and include all four campus ministries in it.” Or: “Bishop, should I do a year of volunteer ministry before I go to medical school or after?” Or – stand with me in your imaginations – I’m standing at an altar and there are 85 college students standing with me for the Eucharistic Prayer. I’ve just confirmed four of them on a Sunday evening and I’ve confirmed the formerly homeless woman that they evangelized.

We need to claim that what we are doing on our campuses is the most important evangelism that we are trusted with and we need to extend that to George Mason. And we need to understand that now that one of our protracted wars has concluded and, God-willing, another one is soon to conclude, we will have a whole community of returning warriors with their GI benefits and they will be going to our community colleges. The ones in your neighborhood, a whole new area of mission and ministry and welcome and compassion that we need to think about. There is nothing more important than what we do in this area.

And now, a segue – please pay attention!

She had no idea of the impact of her simple words. It was the self-possessing animation that I found so moving. The topic was a comparison of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Arlington, her home parish, that she loved, and the Episcopal Church in Athens, Georgia, her college parish that she loved. She was comparing and contrasting gifts of the clergy, the various approaches to Christian formation and outreach ministry, and she was so palpably excited about what God was doing in both places. I remember thinking that I wished I saw such unbridled enthusiasm for mission in the churches everywhere I went.  And you know what, she was just one of 60 amazing college-age staff that was hired to be part of the summer of 49 on the Mountain – doing transformative disciple training on that holy mountain where we help folks fall madly and passionately in love with the God who is the father of Jesus Christ. At Shrine Mont camps, we introduce the God who loves the world – the God who loves it by creating it and redeeming it at such cost. We introduce the God who in Jesus Christ loves us – all of us, in our complexities, our giftedness, our differences and our similarities. At the camps on the Mountain we meet the God who loves me, which in the torturing truth of adolescence, is the hardest of affirmations, followed by the hardest of responses – “I love me.”  Not a narcissistic “I love me,” but “I better love me since God loves me and I must love what God loves!”

With that theological clarity under our belts, then the folks who come to the Mountain are ready for the rest of their lives which will be all about: I love the world, I love that expansive “us” that is the human family, I love you – the neighbor next to me at every moment of my human existence. So, what do these words look like when they are lived by people who have been to our mountain? Probably more than Jim Lincoln and Wilmer Moomaw could have imagined 50 years ago. But here is just a small fraction of what discipleship formed on the mountain looks like in God’s ever-so-loved world.

He came to the Mountain and he left to become a distinguished attorney, a counselor to three presiding bishops, the chancellor of this diocese, a member of the executive council of the Episcopal Church.

She left the Mountain but would give up her lucrative real estate practice during the summer and direct St. George’s. Upon her return, she would chair her parish search committee, serve on the vestry – you name it, she did it.   

One young man came to that mountain many summers and then laid down his life in sacrifice for his country, leaving behind letters that talked about Shrine Mont.

One is helping the Diocese of Louisiana rebuild after Katrina while another slogs away in the courts of law, preserving our resources, not to win, but to recover our balance sheet precious gifts from our foremothers and fathers and to continue spreading the Gospel that found him on that mountain, and just will not let him go.

One just did a transformative weekend for the vestry of St. John’s Church in Lynchburg, while another brings Catechesis of the Good Shepherd to St. Andrew’s, Louisville, Kentucky, while another advises his parish church on how to maximize for mission the trust held by the parish.

One organizes a mission team for Haiti while another serves yet another summer as our camp nurse.

And of the many who have gone on to be priests, one in particular ends her family Eucharist, not with the traditional blessing but with this amazing shout that begins “God loves the world. God loves us. God loves you. I love you. God loves me. I love me. Thanks be to God.”

Eight – more than one third of our diocesan staff, including a couple of the old ones, like Lindsay and me – were formed on the mountain. And, oddest of all, two actually left Shrine Mont: one to become bishop in Kentucky and one in Southern Virginia.

I do not presume to know what vision lead the Moomaws, and the Gibsons, and the Lincolns, and the Reiners to launch the adventure 50 years ago this summer, but the growth from tent platforms on the side of a hill to Explorers Camp, Art Camp, Music and Drama Camp, Senior High Youth Conference, St. Andrew’s Camp, St. Elizabeth’s Camp, St. George’s Camp, St. Sebastian’s Sports Camp. I can’t imagine that they could have imagined that. But I believe they would rejoice to know that 700 campers were caught up in our very creative nets as we obeyed Jesus last summer, and fished for disciples, in our way, in our time.

This summer we’re going to have a great party honoring what the animating Spirit of the Living God has made possible in 50 years of Shrine Mont camping. Sign up quickly for the party July 13-15 as we have an amazing celebration of this milestone. And then help us discern how best to provide for the next 50 years. We know that the fabric of our facilities needs attention. We want to make sure that no person who wants to participate in any summer program will ever be turned away because of an inability to pay and we want to dream dreams for God’s future on the Mountain. It has been a personal joy of my first year of ministry among you to begin to talk to folks about Shrine Mont’s future and to help recruit folks to serve on exploratory committees to do feasibility studies and dream dreams for Shrine Mont’s camping future. Never before have I been so moved. I want you to listen to this next sentence. Everyone that I have approached to help has said, “Yes.” Everyone! Some of them thought I was there for money, and their checkbooks were ready, but I was there for them.

Who could have believed that last summer 760 people (700 campers, 60 staff) would sign up to spend a summer on a mountain learning to live and reflect in their own lives the very inner life of the Triune God that we adore – that divine community of love – the Blessed Trinity whose inner life of love is spilling over and over towards this ever-so loved world. Churchill Gibson’s shouting prayer is also the amplification of a murmur, a whispering and whispered prayer that sings of the love that is the very binding of the Trinity. It sings of the love that is the foundational reality of the universe. God loves the world, God loves us, God loves you, I love you, God loves me, I love me, God loves us, God is love, and all that remains is a “Thanks be to God” that is the rest of our lives and beyond. What a 50 years! Let us begin to imagine the next 50.