Bishop Goff's Report
Thanks for God wishes, prayers and support.
Thanks to my brothers Shannon, Ted and David for the collegiality we share that allows any one of us to be away while still leaving the leadership of the Diocese in good hands.
Sometimes it's hard to find a pair of shoes that really fit. You know, the kind you can walk in for miles without aches or blisters. St. Paul offers one fit that promises to be perfect. In his letter to the Ephesians (6:15), he writes, "As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace."
This year as a Diocese, we have put on those shoes. We've put on Gospel shoes in order to walk in love. Gospel shoes have taken us to places where love is manifest and places where love is most achingly needed.
At this convention, two congregations will put on their Gospel shoes and walk into a new relationship with Diocese.
St. Luke's, Simeon, in the Charlottesville area, and St. Paul's, Nomini Grove, on the Northern Neck, will become parishes later this morning. It will be pure joy to celebrate with them.
Walking in Gospel shoes led us to close a church this year - St. Martin's, Doswell.
The tiny congregation regularly put on their Gospel shoes in a vibrant food ministry to people in Hanover County. When the county moved the food distribution site, the congregation developed exciting plans to farm the church grounds and add wholesome produce to the county-provided fare. In the end, though, they did not have a critical mass of workers to bring the vision to reality, and the few members disbursed to other nearby churches. We will give thanks for the life and ministry of St. Martin's over generations as we deconsecrated the church building later this year. (Please do note that with this closure, we are now a diocese of 180 churches.)
Gospel shoes took me to the dump in Guatemala City. It's a place of filth and stench and danger as garbage 10 stories high shifts and slides, and pent-up gasses explode. It is a Dante-like vision of hell.
Men and women go there every day, gleaning among the moving dump trucks, for glass and plastic and metal, which they sort and recycle to earn a few dollars a day. They live in "Invaciones," neighborhoods built on reclaimed landfill. Children are born there with little promise for a life beyond the dump. But there is beautiful hope for over 200 children because Carlos Molina, who grew up there, has a different vision, and because Greg Lowden from Leeds Church, Markham, empowers local organizations that serve youth-at-risk. We will hear from Greg and Carlos later this morning in a video of greetings from mission partners around the world.
Gospel shoes lead us to walk in solidarity with Latino brothers and sisters who experience fear and uncertainty in the shadow of harsh rhetoric about immigrants in our midst.
Early in Advent, I visited Las Damas Visioneras, the women's group, of La Iglesia de Santa Maria. One woman told me about her 16-year-old son who was born in the U.S., who speaks English without a hint of a Spanish accent, who is excelling in school and who will likely be the first member of the family ever to attend college. Through her tears, she said that in November, her precious boy was bullied at school - for the first time in his life. He was told that he was not wanted in America.
Because of her story and others like it, the Gospel shoes of your bishops and other Episcopalians from around the Diocese walked us to Santa Maria on December 4 for Un Servicio de Luz y Esperanza - a Service of Light and Hope. Bishop Shannon spoke of this yesterday.
We sang together, heard words of strength, lit candles, and pledged to walk in love with our immigrant brothers and sisters, no matter where that walk takes us. Even into acts of intentional, faithful, holy civil-disobedience.
Gospel shoes lead us to concrete service for the sake of others. Last February, a tornado cut a path of destruction in parts of Virginia, including Essex County.
Members of St. John's, Tappahannock, worked with others in the community to provide water and basic needs, and to support a sister church, St. John's, Baptist, that was completely destroyed.
People of St. John's and St. Paul's and other churches in Richmond build community with neighbors in the East End of the city through Laundry Love. (Though I doubt any of them have tried what this photo suggests!)
People in most of our congregations provide food for those who are hungry or coats for those who are cold, or warm socks, or Thanksgiving meals or Christmas gifts, or diapers, or other necessities to those who need them. You walk in your Gospel shoes to visit people who are sick or in jail, and you stand in Gospel shoes for joyful worship each week.
Gospel shoes took men, women and children from this diocese to Washington last Saturday, where we joined hundreds of thousands of others. I shared my reason for going in video of sermon at St. Catherine's upper school week before I went. Heard at this convention stories from many of you - about your decision process, about experiences there. I share just one of many gift encounters.
Midday, a few of us stepped into the Museum of African American History and Culture where I met an elderly African American man, a Methodist minister, who was taking a break from the crowds. He told me that he had marched in Washington with Dr. King in 1963. Tears of gratefulness sprang to my eyes. Those tears fell when he said that he was the first African American to check out a book from the public library of his small, southern town - after having been beaten time and time again for trying. He said he was in Washington this time to voice his insistence that no man, woman or child ever again be denied their dignity as a human being. Mindful of my privilege as a wealthy white person, I was humbled to see his Gospel shoes and to walk for a moment in his beautiful shadow.
We strap on our Gospel shoes and walk in love because we are made for love by God who loves us fiercely. We love God. We pray to God. We listen to God. We strive to walk with God.
This love between us and God is a vertical spirituality.
Then, with God, we get other people; that's the deal we agreed to at baptism. When we enter into relationship with God, we get relationships with others. There's no way around it.
We come to know God in and through others; we share the love of God with others; we serve God in others. This love of God in other people is a horizontal spirituality.
When you put the two together, what do you get?
The cross. We live as Christians, right at the heart of the cross, at the intersection of love for God and love for others.
At the heart of the cross, we live. From the heart of the cross, we serve. In the heart of the cross, we strap on Gospel shoes and go to wherever God's love takes us.
And when we get there, we live out our bias. Because, yes, we as Christians are biased. It's not a partisan bias; its not about one political party or another;
It's a Jesus bias. It's a bias we reaffirm every time we renew our baptismal vows and promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons, to love our neighbors as ourselves, to strive for justice and peace, and to respect the dignity of every human being. We have a Jesus bias that shapes and forms who we are, a Jesus bias that takes our walking feet wherever Jesus needs to be.
So lace up, strap on, slip into your Gospel shoes, Diocese of Virginia.
Go out and be witnesses to your Jesus bias. Walk in love wherever you are – today, tomorrow and every day of your lives.