Bishop Goff's Report

Our life in the Diocese of Virginia is visible today in vivid textures and vibrant hues.  We are like a crazy quilt, which is a traditional American type of quilt made with patches of varying sizes, shapes, textures and colors, sewn together with all sorts of threads and types of stitches, without a discernable pattern. We are like a crazy quilt sewn from a family’s favorite clothes, each piece with its own story.  We are alive with layer upon layer, stitch upon stitch of creative energy.

We see vivid color in congregations that have outgrown their current space and are exploring new models of how to be the church without necessarily having a free-standing building and dedicated parking lot.  We see bright hues in

congregations that are exploring how to use their buildings and grounds in service not only to the current congregation but to the wider community.

We see rich textures in congregations who have buildings that are now too big for them and who are exploring how to “right-size;” in congregations that are exploring combining, merging or yoking with one or more other congregations, and in congregations that are working to share resources and engage in ministry together while remaining separate churches.  

We see the quilted stitches of our life together among congregations who are wondering if they are called to de-yoke, and in new worship communities that are springing up in unexpected places and who wonder how they are a part of the diocese.

And we see the necessary darker tones that give our quilt depth and dimension in a congregation that has engaged an intentional process that has led to the decision to conclude their ministries. 

The crazy quilt of our diocese is vibrant now in a time of rapid change in our Church and in our society.  Everywhere we turn, it seems, we hear predictions that the Church is dying, that we are the last generation of bishops, priests, deacons and lay people, the last generation of small congregations, the last generation of Christianity. I saw a statistic in the fall, from a Powerpoint presentation prepared by Scott Davis, author of Mind the Gap.  It says that at the current rate of change, the last Episcopal Church in the United States would close its doors in 2064.  49 years from now. I don’t believe it for a minute. I don’t think that Scott Davis believes it, either, but uses numbers like this to urge us on to new thinking, new attentiveness to the realities in which we live and minister.

The Church is changing, but it’s changing, not dying.  In fact, the Church cannot die - because the Church is the living, breathing body of Christ and that body, once crucified, will not die again – not until God says, ‘Well done, good and faithful servants.”  Individual congregations can and will die, as they have for the 2000 year history of the Church.  And new congregations will be born.  But the Church will not die.

As Diana Butler Bass reminds us in her books, her blogs, her talks, “It’s change, just change.”  

Change, however, does bring with it more than a measure of fear.  Ron Heifetz and his colleagues say the following in their book,  The Practice of Adaptive Leadership.

You know the adage, ‘People resist change.’ It is not really true.  People are not stupid.  People love change when they know it is a good thing.  No one gives back a winning lottery ticket.  What people resist is not change per se, but loss.”

This is a time of change and fear of all the losses that come with change.  It’s not the end.  It’s not even a unique time, as Phyllis Tickle reminds us in her seminal work, The Great Emergence, in which she explore times of major change in the church that have occurred every 500 years or so.  It is change, not the end.

How in this diocese are we living together in this time of change and fear of loss?  What is our Diocesan plan for facing change and ensuring the future of the Church in Virginia for generations to come?  How do we support each other when we are smacked in the face with losses that we don’t know how to handle? 

There was a time when we would have appointed a diocesan committee or commission and handed these questions over. Creating a committee can seduce us into feeling that we are doing something and can help keep the fear at bay. But we are in a different place now in the diocese, in the Church and in our culture.  We are well aware that the work we are called to do is the work of all of us, each in our local context – not just the work of the bishops or the diocesan staff or a committee appointed by Council.  Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, has a mantra about this.  He says, over and over again, in word and action, “The Church works best when it works locally.” 

The kinds of issues that congregations are facing locally are as varied and diverse as our congregations themselves. 

We can’t lead from above in the midst of this kind of change and diversity – we can only lead from within.   So, instead of forming new committees or commissions, Pat Wingo, Canon to the Ordinary, Julie Simonton, Director of Stewardship and Congregational Development, and I will gather a think tank for a day in March: a think tank made up of people who have open and creative minds, and who are not burdened by a predetermined agenda or outcome.  Our focus will be to talk and think about how we can support each other across the diocese in this time of change and loss and surprising new life.  By the very nature of this work, we don’t know where it will lead.  We don’t want even to name possibilities, because that naming could blind us to the unexpected, sometimes shocking, movement of the Holy Spirit.  I trust that there will be great blessings through this hard work. 

Having viewed the entire crazy quilt of our diocese, let’s look now at a specific patch.  Yesterday I shared with you five numbers to summarize our Dayspring experience.  There is a piece that didn’t fit into that context that is a cause for celebration today – and a reminder that we are all a part of this crazy quilt. 

As of January 1st of this year, The Falls Church Episcopal Church in Falls Church is no longer receiving financial aid from the Diocese of Virginia.  They are the first of our Dayspring congregations to be weaned from Dayspring. But they are not now self-sufficient – there is no such thing as self-sufficiency in the Church.  We are dependent upon one another, sewn together with stitches that are sometimes seen, sometimes unseen.  To demonstrate our interdependence, I invite the following people to stand:

All who are currently a part of the life of The Falls Church and all who have been a part in the past. 

The people of St. Mary’s, Arlington, who help fund the children and youth pastor and the people of Resurrection who come up with creative ways to hold regional events at The Falls Church;

The seven congregations who participated in the glorious Easter Vigil at The Falls Church last spring;

People all across the diocese who prayed through our time of litigation, prayed for Dayspring congregations, prayed for the bishops and the diocese;

People in congregations who give resources of any kind –time, energy, money, skills, ideas, questions – to the diocese so that we can continue to support one another in our life in Christ. 

In other words, I invite us ALL to stand and recognize our interconnection as one Body in Christ. 

Let us give thanks that we are sewn together and bound in the love of God.

Finally I invite us to see and touch one last patch of our diocesan crazy quilt.   A congregation in this diocese is closing its doors next month.  On February 7, Trinity Church in Highland Springs will have a Service of Endings with Hope for New Beginnings. The congregation engaged an intentional process of reflection, prayer, conversation and just plain hard work, in partnership with our Diocesan Committee on Congregational Missions and me, for over two years before making the decision. Two members will share with us brief reflections on their story.  Ina Stickel and Peg Warren are sisters, and they have a combined 150 years of worship, ministry and service in Trinity Church. Please welcome Ina Stickel:

Hi, I'm Ina Stickel and this is my sister, Peg Warren.  We came to Trinity Church (formerly Church of the Messiah) in 1939.  So we’ve been around for a while.

Our families were baptized, confirmed and married here and have since moved away to start families of their own.  We have participated in many facets of church life including serving on the Vestry, teaching Sunday School, ECW, ECW Board, Lenten Lunches, Bake Sales, Yard Sales, picnics and coffee hours and all the activities that are a part of church life.

 Attending Trinity Church has always been a priority with us so we are saddened by the closure this February 7, as are all of the members.  I pray that all of our congregation will go and use their God given talents in a new church family. 

 Bishop Johnston, we found your message to us in the current Episcopalian, especially the added prayer at the end by Thomas Merton, to be very helpful to us as we move forward to find a new church home.

 The theme of the Council this year is very fitting, too, "Working Together, Reaching Beyond."

 So, Look Out World -- Here We Come.

We give thanks to Ina and Peg and to all of the members of Trinity Church for their faithfulness.  

In recognition of ministry past and with trust for God’s grace in the present and future, please join in singing verse 1 of Hymn 559 – “Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us.”  It is in your worship packets.

Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us o’er the world’s tempestuous sea;

Guard us, guide us, keep us, feed us, for we have no help but thee,

Yet possessing every blessing, if our God our Father be. 

And so I end my report on what some might hear as a sad and foreboding note – and I do it on purpose, because the faithfulness of the people of Trinity reminds us that what we are experiencing is change, not the death of the Body of Christ. 

Our diocese is alive, even in this time of change and loss, with vivid colors and rich, thick textures.  The crazy quilt, with all its disparate pieces, is beautiful.  May we, following the prodding of the Spirit, keep on fabricating this quilt from day to day, year to year, in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ.