Monday, February 28, 2011

March Message

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

I want to begin by thanking you for your presence and participation at our 37th Diocesan Convention. I was amazed at the speed with which we attended to necessary business and the general spirit of the event. I am particularly grateful to Dean Richardson for his convention sermon and Diana Butler Bass for her keynote address on Friday and workshop on Saturday morning.

At this Convention, we did important work in moving forward our Strategic Planning process and tested a draft mission and vision statement:

Mission: The Episcopal Diocese of San Diego: a missionary community that dares to follow Jesus Christ in his life of fearless love for the world.

Vision: Undeterred by borders or barriers, we are pilgrims with Jesus in relentlessly searching for others to know, to befriend, and to invite them to Christ's Eucharistic table of reconciliation and sacrificial love.

The initial input from our table conversations on Saturday was positive albeit with helpful suggestions. One comment that caught my attention was that these statements of purpose and direction lacked specificity. It was with that rumbling in my mind that I received an email from Simon Mainwaring, rector of St. Andrew's with the subject head, "so you know people do listen to your address," sharing with me his blog entry for Valentine's Day.

Simon tells his response to our vision statement and "taking the Church beyond the border" in his blog, "Simon Mainwaring PB." Simon tells of his experience in being vulnerable by taking a handful of Valentine cards and walking the streets of Pacific Beach greeting absolute strangers and wishing them a Happy Valentine's Day. Thank you Simon, for helping me respond to the critique that our Mission and Vision are without specifics.

The specifics of Mission and Vision will in the end be found in the intersecting of the Holy Spirit, our imagination and the liminal places that are a whole host of borders around us.

In a world where buildings fall in earthquakes, congressional representatives become targets for assassination, and dictators cling to power with bullets and blood, we can feel powerless and fearful. To follow Jesus is to dare. To follow Jesus is to be fearless. To follow Jesus is to study our spiritual and cultural geography so that we can find that threshold where God's mission happens, that place of borders, imagination and inspiration.

Blessings to you as we enter this season of wilderness wanderings on the way to our true home.

The Bishop's Address: Signposts Along the Way

37th Convention of the Diocese of San Diego

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

La gracia y paz de Dios nuestro Padre y SeƱor Jesucristo a todos ustedes.


As some of you know, my hobby is wood working. It is what I do to restore myself a bit and exercise my creative side. Like all woodworkers, sometimes the only discernable byproduct of my time in the shop is saw dust. Yet from time to time, I am asked to put that avocation in service of the church. And so, when Hannah Wilder told me that we needed sign posts for our convention signs, I thought of that as a way I could contribute to the cause.

So, I put my saw, router, drill and socket wrench to work and made a few sign posts for this convention. If you successfully made your way to the registration table or the restroom, you are welcome.

However, as I thought about my modest project of building stands for signs, it occurred to me that this is perhaps an apt analogy for our ministry in this diocese. For this project was collaboration. Greg Tuttle designed and ordered the signs, I built the stands, and others moved them here and placed them where they would be the most helpful.

In our life together, we each do different tasks and we hope that the combined efforts are signs—messages of God—written or spoken in words or in deeds. We receive such signs and messages as the fruits of prayer, pondering, conversations, and discernment—the sort of work in which we have just been engaged at our tables. Just like the team effort that gave us our convention signs, our words and actions as the Church are humble efforts to frame God’s message in time and place together. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” I Cor. 3:1

Bishops and really the whole people of God are crafters of these messages of “the faith once delivered.” The question that is the theme of this convention, “What is God up to?” is a provocative question that assumes that God has a dream for God’s creation, and that in pursuit of that dream God is purposeful and active in the world. And because this is who God is, theologians for centuries have spoken of God’s mission, the missio Dei. And Holy Scripture and the early church mothers and fathers teach us the mission of God is one of restoration and reconciliation. Think of the vision of the peaceable kingdom in Isaiah: “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid…and a little child shall lead them.” Isaiah 11: 6 Or consider the picture painted in the Revelation to John of “the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God …the home of God is amongmortals.” The Revelation 21:2

Yes, from Isaiah through John at Patmos, our forebearers glimpsed God’s dream and painted a poetic picture of hope. God’s relentless love seeks us out even still. God has a mission and God has a church to serve that mission. And this Episcopal Diocese of San Diego has a particular place in that mission. To be such a church and diocese, we are to claim our part in the Mission of God. That is why we ask the question, “What is God up to?”


Believing in a God who acts, our spiritual ancestors have asked this question in the midst of a divided sea, in Babylonian captivity, a garden of betrayal, at the foot of a cross and before an empty tomb. And what they saw and what they testified to was a God who acts to save. Frederick Buechner offered this definition of God’s mission when challenged to sum up God’s story and

God’s mission in three sentences:

God created the world.

The world became a damn mess.

God did not give up on the world.

And so, God remains active—relentlessly pursuing a mission of restoration and hope. And as the church, we are called to join in that mission and to claim that hope.

My friend and colleague, Greg Rickel, Bishop of Olympia, suggested to his convention that “hope without a plan is denial.” Hope without a plan leads to bickering in the wilderness. It freezes disciples in fear behind closed doors. It leads to arguments about whose in and whose out, who is Jew and who is Gentile. But through God’s initiative and with a discerning heart, the people of God come together and act. And it is in that spirit, that we on this day look out and plan a future for this community of faith, this diocese that we believe that God is already making a reality.

Mike Collier and Paige Blair have spent a bit of time giving you a glimpse of what future by sharing with you a preamble to a Strategic Plan as well as a draft statement of mission and vision. In my ordination vows as bishop, I was asked to encourage and support you, to “nourish [you] from the riches of God’s grace.” These words of mission and vision are loaded with God’s grace.

And as I prepare to move deeply into these words and my sense of their power for all of us, I want to pause and open up my heart a bit. What I want you to know is this: I come to this moment and time in our common life with an incredibly thankful heart, first and perhaps foremost for the privilege of ministering with you in this grace-filled vocation of bishop. I am thus overwhelmingly thankful for all of you: for the clergy who day in and day out provide the pastoral and sacramental ministry of Christ and I am thankful for all of the laity who are the primary ministers of the Gospel. I am thankful for the Body of Christ that we are in this place and in this time.

I would be remiss if I did not also express abundant thanks for those with whom I work most closely, the staff of the Office of the Bishop. Bobbi, Isabel, Howard, Hannah, Julie, Suzi, and Rosa serve us with a dedication and diligence that is an immense gift to us all. They see their work as ministry for and with you. To all of you, I hold up a sign of thankfulness.


To begin with thanksgiving is always a fruitful posture from which to set out on anew. That is why The General Thanksgiving comes towards the end of Morning Prayer so that the petitioner begins the day with a grateful heart. And so it is with a grateful heart that I take up these words of mission and vision. Like my sign building in preparation for this convention, this vision casting is a collaborative work. The Strategic Planning Committee and their co-chairs have done great work. We have been blessed by our facilitator, Allan Dorsey.

Part of our work together has been to reflect on our history and where we are as a diocesan community. Permit me to likewise be a bit reflective in my own preface to visioning. For in reality, if you don’t know where you are on the map it is hard to fully interpret the signs.

It is now six years since I followed different signs to travel from the Midwest to this community. In those six years, we have gone from being divided to united. We have moved from being financially over-extended to a state of reasonable stability. We have become more connected and more mission-oriented. And I sense we have become less distracted and rediscovered our passion for Jesus and his way. It feels to me that we are at a place where we can focus our energies on building up the church—for mission.

If we were still reactive and dealing with overwhelming crises, then it would be difficult to discern and live into a more mission driven future. But we are in a different place today. And so, we look ahead and articulate and test what we pray will be our future path. If you detected my language and proverbial fingerprints in the preamble, mission, and vision statements that Mike and Paige shared with you, then you would be correct. Those words are not mere words to me. They come from the core of my being which I pray are very close to where God would have us be in this diocese in this time.

We begin with mission because as a community baptized into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are to be a missional community. As Swiss theologian Emil Brunner said, “The Church exists by mission as fire exists by burning."1 With hearts brim full with gratitude and love, we extravagantly share God’s love. It is hard wood of the cross love. It is sacrificial. It asks not what the church offers us, but rather what we are privileged to give up to become more a part of Christ in the world. And thus our mission statement,

The Episcopal Diocese of San Diego: a missionary community that dares to follow Jesus Christ in his life of fearless love for the world.

This is who we are supposed to be. We are missional—not our mission but God’s we are followers of Jesus who pours out his life in love—fearless, self-giving, love.

And through its power, this mission statement, says also what we are not. We are not simply casual Christians. Kenda Creasy Dean in her book, Almost Christian, contends that there is a pervasive faith being peddled in our churches which as the title of her book suggests is “almost Christian.” Those who embrace this way of being a Christian acknowledge a God who is not particularly active in our lives and simply wants us to be good and happy. She suggests that we have lost our “missional imagination” through self-focused spiritualities. She urges a refocusing on what is elemental about being a Christian, a Jesus follower. Note how her words challenge us to be focused and to look ahead to our distinctive vision in this diocese:

If the God of Jesus Christ is a missionary God who crosses every boundary—life and death and space and time—to win us, then following Jesus is bound to be anything but convenient.2

Speaking the truth in love, I sometimes find myself in church communities where comfort and convenience is a standard that is commingled following a low-cost, low-benefit following of Jesus. You are the best judge in determining the degree to which this may apply to your congregation. Suffice it to say that I am belaboring this because I believe that we need to dare to follow Jesus however rough the terrain may become. We need to grapple with means to be “sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever,” not to make us nice or happy but to beckon us to join with Christ on the only road to the Kingdom which is the way of the cross.

I have already framed this mission in terms of time and place. This is not accidental. We are an incarnational people. As followers of Jesus, we believe that our bodies, our time and place are the stuff of holiness. Creation is not simply to be escaped or endured but perfected by the Incarnation of God in Christ. Through our baptism, we join in that incarnational reality. We embody Jesus Christ. Paul had it right when he described the church as the Body of Christ. And so our vision of our life as the body has particularity in this time and this place. It is for this reason that we articulate the vision of our diocese is in the particularity of place and time as a working body. Our vision has trajectory; it is charged with action and, I might add, the level of risk that is always found in going journey:

Undeterred by borders or barriers, we are pilgrims with Jesus in relentlessly searching for others to know, to befriend, and to invite them to Christ’s Eucharistic table of reconciliation and sacrificial love.

A critical reality of our geographic location is that it is a place of borders. Again, rooted in the Incarnation, this should not surprise us. After all, the Incarnation is God’s great border crossing from divine to human. In an essay reflecting on the human journey in a place of borders, Fr. Daniel Groody suggests that as we imitate the migrating God in Jesus Christ, we do the fundamental mission of reconciliation, to cross the human-human divide just as God crosses the divine-human divide.3 These liminal places are like our burning bushes where we glimpse the Holy; they are places where God’s mission is begging to be lived out. For us, one such place is obvious: the international border. In naming this reality we are invited to grapple with the complexity of what it means to be a border diocese, where the very issues of immigration, migrant workers, and undocumented travelers cause pain and division. We cannot be truly followers of Jesus Christ if we assume that grappling with such vexing issues is simply too hard, uncomfortable, or divisive.

Greed, racism, and xenophobia—all rooted in fear and misunderstanding—are the real barriers for which the fences along the international border are simply a physical manifestation. Because Jesus is always out ahead, crossing borders (remember lepers, the woman at the well, tax collectors), we too must follow him and transcend these limits—pushing through to the other side:

  • The barrier between faiths which breeds so much misunderstanding, fear, and even hate
  • The barrier between those who are serving or have served in the military and those who are the beneficiaries of that service
  • The barrier between the obscenely rich and those in abject poverty

When we see a border of separation, we should think mission! The French Jesuit Michel de Certeau echoes this presupposition,

Within the Christian experience, the boundary or limit is a place for action… Boundaries are the place of the Christian work, and their displacements are the result of this work.4

I would challenge you to try and define a signal focal point of Christian mission that does not have a border to be crossed as a basic characteristic. Our vision is then a sign that calls us to be undeterred in a tireless search for coming to know and be known by the stranger, the other. As the Archbishop of Canterbury has said, “The slogan of the church's life is “not without the other.”5 We live with an ever-present uneasiness that this Body is not complete and so we relentlessly seek the other as if looking for our lost selves, because we are.


The sacramental sign of both mission and vision in the particularity of this time and this place—surely our time and place and for that matter any time and any place—is the Eucharist. It is both and. Whenever we come together in remembrance of Jesus Christ, we are united in a catholicity that transcends congregation, diocese, the Episcopal Church, and binds us to the universal body. This is a miracle glimpsed. It is a present reality and not yet.

Philip Sheldrake, vice-principal at Sarum College, Salisbury profoundly states this true when we writes,

To live eucharistically as a way of ‘practicing everyday life’ involves an act of commitment… to convert their time and place into a laboratory of ultimate hope. 6

A Eucharistic practice that leads to a hope fulfilling mission is what we pray in one of our own Eucharistic Prayers, “Open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us.”7 Mission of God! “Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only and not for strength; for pardon only and not for renewal.”8 Practicing in the laboratory of hope! And this action-oriented, table-centered laboratory is unbounded. For the Eucharistic life is thankful cohabitation with God in Christ and all who come to the table. Again, to quote Sheldrake,

To celebrate the Eucharist also commits people, even more radically, to cross the boundaries of fear, of prejudiced and injustice in a prophetic embracing of other people, without exception...10

This is where our heart must be. This is the place from which our mission streams.

As clergy serving in congregations, as lay leaders, as bishop, we can be overwhelmed by institutional worries. We will always be grappling with tough financial issues, with division, and such. While we should be attentive to these concerns, we must not allow them to either preoccupy us or distract us. If we do, we will be taken off track and look for cheap and expedient solutions. We will deal with mere symptoms and not the root problem, which in this case I believe in my bones is a failure to bet our whole lives on following Jesus in all his demands.

We will be tempted to either become like an entertainment church with edge music and perhaps a rigid proscriptive dogma that offers simple answers to perplexing questions, or we will offer a tepid, low demand “almost” Christian faith in hopes that we gain a few more pew sitters or pledgers. The first option is too limiting; the second is faithless.


Today, we have again been feed in the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. We have listened to the Holy Scriptures and said our prayers. Our mission and vision is to live as followers of Jesus. We are called to give all. If we are thus faithful, the temporal and institutional matters, while ever present, will be taken care of. If we are thus faithful, we will in this time and this place be Christ to those who do not know Christ.

This remains an extraordinary age of mission. God’s mission has a church. We should be undeterred by borders and boundaries, but seek them out as the place for us to do our Church craft. And so dare to be fearless followers of Jesus; we dare to be a Eucharistic people of hope.

You may know the story of two intrepid Irish boys who used to spend their days exploring the rolling countryside. They journeyed over rivers and through valleys, past farms and flocks. When they got hungry, they’d help themselves to what God offered them through the unwitting generosity of local farmers.

One day, the boys came upon a high wall that guarded an orchard and blocking their path. It seemed impassable. For a moment, they considered turning back and ending their journey. Then, in a flash of unspoken agreement, they took their caps off their heads and flung them over the impassable wall. Now they had no choice but to continue.11

Well, we are at a place of decision. For myself, I guess that I have thrown my miter over the wall. Dear Ones, will you toss your caps over as well? Will you take the risks and rewards of living into this mission and vision. Undeterred, let us throw our proverbial caps over the walls that separate us from those whom we should come know. God is up to something in the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego. Let us join with God in God’s daring mission of love.

And I now end where I began, as your grateful carpenter bishop, who loves you more than you will ever know.

May God richly bless you and protect you in this dangerous and eternally graced vocation.


1 Emil Brunner, source unknown

2Kenda Creasy Dean, Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church, Oxford University Press, 2010, p. 37.

3Daniel G. Groody, C.S.C., “Dying to Live: Theology, Migration, and the Human Journey, Reflections, Yale Divinity School, Fal 2008, p. 33.

4Michel De Certeuau, “How is Christianity Thinkable Today?”, p. 151.

5Rowan Williams, Tokens of Trust: An introduction to Christian belief, Canterbury Press, Norwich, 2007, p. 106.

6Philip Sheldrake, Spaces for the Sacred: Place, Memory, and Identity, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001, p. 79.

7The Book of Common Prayer, p. 372.


9Sheldrake, p. 79.

10Stories for Writers and Speakers,