Bishop Jones' Report
Bishop Johnston, Bishop Gulick, Bishop Dixon, Bishop Gray, ecumenical guests, members of Council:
Words will not begin to express the overwhelming gratitude I feel as I stand before you. You have welcomed me and encouraged me in so many gracious and generous ways. Thank you for the privilege of serving this diocese. I am very proud to be a Virginia bishop.
I am especially grateful for the support that I have received from Bishop Shannon. I will miss the twinkle in his eye at the weekly Eucharist at Mayo House when he speaks of the saints of the Church. I am grateful for the support I have received from Bishop Ted, from the diocesan staff, from the deans, from the Standing Committee, from the Diocesan Missionary Society, from the Executive Board and from the Committees on Congregational Missions and Church Planting. I’ve worked with all of these groups, and all have supported me in my ministry, and I’m grateful for their talent and dedication.
My perspective on the work of God and the Church has certainly evolved during my tenure. I have seen amazing transformation in congregations due to extraordinary leadership. I have witnessed dynamic ministry. And I have seen failure. Having seen the good with the bad, I have come to appreciate more than ever how vision, encouragement, training and empowering cause the Church to grow, and at the same time how controlling and patrolling behavior cause the church to shrink.
One constant that is always part of a lively congregation is a strong foundation of prayer. If I have learned anything in ordained ministry, it is that there is no silver bullet – no magic program – no special formula. It is through prayer—upon disciplined prayer, that a foundation of mission and ministry is built. There is no substitute.
Then, upon a foundation of prayer, the Church can catch fire with intentional teaching and preaching.
And as it is hard to start a fire with without some kindling, it is difficult to initiate effective ministry without the kindling of continuous and intentional equipping of leaders.
Imagine the kindling taking place at Shrine Mont when campers are introduced to a living faith day after day. Appreciate the kindling for future ministry our young people experience on mission trips. Bible study, prayer groups and small fellowship groups provide kindling for the fire of ministry.
But for ministry to take hold and spread and grow, a fire needs to be ignited. The igniting fire for ministry may be a word of inspiration from Scripture or a sermon or a Bible study, or it may be a pat on the back. Imagine how lives are changed at a youth retreat or parish retreat or mission trip. Words of encouragement and promise mean everything to a person taking on new responsibility and they mean everything to a college student experiencing campus ministry. Imagine the influence of a Sunday school teacher or a choir leader who ignites a fire of faith in a young person.
I will never forget the parting words of Bishop Wilburn Campbell after my first Episcopal visitation as a mission vicar at the age of twenty-five. When Bishop Campbell got into his car at the end of the visitation, he turned to me, looked me in the eye, and said, “Full Marks, Dave.” Those words, those brief words, meant everything to me. Don’t ever underestimate the influence you can have on the ministries of others. Your words of affirmation can be the kindling of another’s ministry.
But for a fire to spread it needs air. Breathing life into a fire causes the kindling to burn, thus heating the emerging fire and causing the larger logs to burn. I would suggest that effective leadership sets the fire, provides the kindling and then breathes life into the fire until it breathes freely.
Then the leader can set other fires. I have come to appreciate leaders who have a ministry of empowering the ministries of others.
Second, I have come to appreciate, as I’ve served among you, that no one has the final word on culture. On numerous occasions, on Sunday visitations, I have been asked the question, “Why don’t they …?” The question assumes that one’s cultural or religious perspective is the right one, and that anything different must be wrong. I have been privileged to move among many different cultures in this diocese and beyond and I have found the living Christ in them all. We need to listen to each other with open hearts eager to see God at work in surprising ways, especially among those who are different from us.
My perspective has been shaped by the changing landscape of the Church. The burning issues of today may be old news to the next generation. And the labels we use to describe each other will also change. Today’s majority may be tomorrow’s minority. And we need to be hesitant and cautious to judge that which is different.
When I was in seminary in Virginia in the 1960s, one of the terms used to label students who were different was the term, “spike.” It referred to people who embrace high church practices. Who would have ever dreamed? And, of course, the opposite referred to Virginia as “snake belly low!”
While those distinctions carry little meaning in this generation, we can gain some perspective on how damaging it can be to label another person without knowing them—how things do change!
Third, I have come to understand that clergy and congregations and dioceses and bishops will never be able to satisfy the question, “What have you done for me?” Regardless of the circumstances or situations, no member of the clergy, no congregation, no diocese or no bishop will ever be able to adequately answer the question, “What have you done for me?” Why? Because the question itself is pointed the wrong direction.
The question needs to focus on God’s mission—an invitation to join in God’s work. A more helpful question might be “what can we do together to fulfill God’s mission?”
What can we do in this parish, together?
What can we do in this region, or this diocese, that we could not do alone? What can we do as an Episcopal church to further the mission of Christ in the world?
While in Southern Sudan in November, I was able to witness how Episcopal Relief and Development had been actively engaged in significant ministry. We were doing that together! When I heard the work of SUDRA supported by ERD, I was able to smile and say that’s part of what we do as the Episcopal Church together. On that same trip, I saw a vehicle with the prominent sign that said that it was a gift from the Diocese of Virginia. We did that together.
While I was at the Provincial Synod, the Diocese of Virginia was named as one of the partners of the Episcopal Church in Sudan. And that recognition included every one of us.
So the question must be, “What are we doing for God?” We will never be satisfied by focusing on what others are doing for us. But we will find deep satisfaction when we are giving and serving and fulfilling God’s call on our lives.
As I approach a transition in my own life, I must say how gratifying it is and how gratifying it has been to serve among you as one of your bishops. I have tried to light some fires. I have enjoyed and embraced divergent cultures. And I have attempted to point toward mission. Thank you.