My beloved in Christ, I say to each and every one of you, welcome, welcome to the 41st Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida. I have been eagerly waiting for this wonderful occasion when we are able to gather once more as brothers and sisters in unity to celebrate the many wonderful things that God has done and continues to do in our diocese.
Do you realize that this year I celebrated 10 years serving you as your Diocesan Bishop? If you remember, from the very beginning of my ministry in this diocese I told you that I was a missionary bishop and that I wanted for us to become a missionary diocese.
It was out of that proclamation that we stated our mission: “The mission of the Diocese of Southeast Florida is to make known to all people the transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, including all, excluding none.”
Well, I have very good news for you. Our Episcopal Church in Southeast Florida has made tremendous advances in spite of the challenging times in which we live. We are growing! Yes, we are growing! Our growth in Average Weekend Attendance and in Plate and Pledge offerings is quite dramatic and a sign of the continued expansion of our common ministries for Christ in Southeast Florida.
In 2009 our AWA was up 1.4% over 2008, and the Plate and Pledge was up 2%. The growth is even more dramatic when you consider that the AWA increased a total of 4.2% from 2008 to 2009, and the Plate and Pledge increased 5.4% in that same time period. We are not flat, and we are not going down—we are going up!
This is an excellent response to Christ’s call to share his Gospel in our midst. I have to congratulate you all.
But I especially want to commend all the congregations involved with the Nehemiah Process during the past seven years. Now we can indeed say with them, “We have come a long way, baby!”
Take a look at these charts that show our AWA and Plate and Pledge. Please notice that those congregations that have actively participated in the Nehemiah Process show a growth in AWA of 4.2% during this period and the Plate and Pledge has increased 5.7% in the same period. Also note that it is only thanks to those Nehemiah congregations that we are able to show overall growth of 1.4% for the whole diocese.
Now please know that, unfortunately, this kind of growth is not the case across the church.
Yet in the midst of all the divisions and quarrels that our Episcopal Church has been going through in recent years, regardless of all of this turmoil, we have been making known to all people in our midst, including all, excluding none, that the Gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to transform each of us, regardless of who we are.
Later on during this Convention, with the help of the Nehemiah Team under the direction of Archdeacon Bryan Hobbs, Linda Schlepp-Gray and all those wonderful people that make up the Nehemiah Steering Committee, I will give some awards to a number of congregations in the diocese that have been outstanding examples this year of Hospitality, Inclusion and Incorporation.
Many other exciting things have been happening. One of them has been the developing merger of two struggling North Dade congregations into one vibrant ministry. St. Margaret’s and San Francisco de Asis, Miami Lakes are in the process of combining resources to become one larger and stronger bicultural Episcopal Church in the Miami Lakes area.
It is also worth mentioning the growth of St. Kevin’s and Transfiguration, which grew by 14.2% and 11.9% respectively.
Thirteen new future clergy are currently in the process toward ordination for our diocese; four of those are under 45 years old and two of them are under 30. We are actively recruiting young men and women to respond Christ’s call to the ordained ministry.
Archdeacon Tom Bruttell has been more than busy shepherding several congregations in transition, providing successful Interim or Transitional periods for seven churches that had clergy vacancies resulting from clergy retirement or transfers.
Already two new Rectors have been called and will begin their ministries with us after the first of the year.
Additionally we have been providing financial management assistance as well as the tools for improved bookkeeping systems, to 10 different churches of the diocese.
We are also able to rejoice at three different Regional Ministry efforts taking place in this diocese. These involve nine churches that are now fully engaged in outreach and partnerships for local community building.
One of the primary tasks of establishing vibrant ministries in our diocese is a commitment here and abroad to make this world a better place to live where justice and equality could reign.
I want to commend Archdeacon Fritz Bazin who was instrumental in the US Government’s decision to grant Temporary Protected Status or TPS to Haitians after the disastrous January 12 earthquake. His efforts here and in Washington helped to bring this about.
We also have been working very hard to strengthen the various ethnic ministries of the diocese. A new and restructured Hispanic Taskforce has been created.
I should note that with the guidance of the Nehemiah Process, Dean Horace Ward and Fr. Richard Aguilar and the leadership of Fr. Smith Milien, the Haitian congregation of St. Paul’s et les Martyr d’Haiti has grown more than 50% this year. That is indeed a remarkable achievement.
We also continue, together with the Union of Black Episcopalians to explore ways of increasing a greater black participation in diocesan commissions and committees.
I am committed to make sure that all the ethnic groups of our diocese can share in the leadership roles of Southeast Florida. We are a diverse diocese, in which white-Anglos, African Americans, Haitians, West Indians, Hispanics, and now Brazilians are all part of who we are. On any given Sunday we worship in four different languages, because the mission of the Diocese of Southeast Florida is to make known to all people—in languages they understand– the transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus, including all, excluding none.
I also want to mention that in response to the fact that same sex couples are now legally permitted to be married in some states of the union and in several other countries, I have authorized the blessing of marriages of same-sex couples who have a marriage certificate and have been married legally in a jurisdiction where that is allowed. An authorized liturgy for such blessings is available upon request from the Diocesan Office. I want to thank the committee headed by Dean Doug McCaleb that worked to produce this document.
Let me make myself very clear: I am committed to work and respect those who may be in disagreement with the blessing of same sex unions, but at the same time I am also committed to make this diocese an inclusive place where gays and lesbians —indeed, ALL people–will be respected and have full participation in the life of our church.
And now some additional important news that you will find of interest:
We continue developing a sweeping, consolidated and long term diocesan Strategy for Growing a Healthier Ministry in this diocese.
There are five elements that help propel this strategy. You may be familiar with 3 of those elements which are:
1. The Parish Finance and Assessment Commission that annually awards approximately $615,000 in congregational grants. ($175,000 in cash aid and $440,000 in assessment reduction).
2. Episcopal Charities of Southeast Florida which along with the Human Needs Committee is able to award $240,000 $300,000 per year in outreach grants.
With their help we are able to empower so many ministries. This year they supported 19 feeding programs that served 264,000 prepared hot meals, as well as food pantry programs that distributed bags of food that fed 48,468 men, women and children.
Be aware that these numbers do not include our program partner, Community Partnership for the Homeless, which receives 5% of its annual food budget from an Episcopal Charities grant. This program provided 828,500 additional meals this year.
Since 2007, nine of our 18 feeding programs are new, and the programs more than doubled the number of meals served and distributed. Thank you, Episcopal Charities.
3. The Nehemiah Process mentioned earlier, already ministers to 44% of our congregations providing helpful resources, training and consultations.
The two new elements of this strategy are:
4. I am requesting that our Property and Loan Committee raise their grant level from $11,000 to $20,000 or $25,000 per mission congregation, and I am also asking them to set aside approximately $500,000 (half a million dollars) with 0% interest loans for capital improvement of our congregations.
5. I have instituted the Bishop’s Ministry Grant Program, which will also provide $1million dollars to strengthen the leadership and infrastructure within the congregations of the diocese over a four-year period. Awards will be granted to approximately 10 congregations, as well as regional ministries, or special projects. It is my prayerful desire that the Bishop’s Ministry Grant Program will assist in the revitalization of the Episcopal Church in Southeast Florida.
Now let me share with you other events and ministries in our diocese that I find very healthy and exciting:
I want to congratulate the Cursillistas of this diocese not only for a series of wonderful Men’s and Women’s Cursillos that have taken place recently but also for exporting the Cursillo Movement to Jamaica at the request of their bishop. With the leadership of team members from our diocese, two Cursillo weekends–one for men, one for women—took place this summer in Jamaica, and now we can proudly say that this diocese has exported the Cursillo Movement to that country, as well as to Honduras and the Bahamas.
I also rejoice in the beginning of the ministry among the Brazilians of our diocese. One of the burdens that our Lord placed in my heart when I came to this diocese was to reach out to the large Brazilian population in our midst. You may remember that the offering in 2001 at the First Step gathering that was held at St. Andrew’s School in Boca Raton, was dedicated to a future ministry among the Portuguese speaking Brazilians.
The last US census shows that the Pompano area is where we can find the three largest communities of Brazilians in the United States. I want to thank Fr. Tim Thomas and the people of St. Nicholas in Pompano Beach for welcoming the Latin-Portuguese Ministry of Southeast Florida and assisting Fr. Jose Sanchez, his wife Glenda and the members of their new worshiping community in reaching out to their Portuguese-speaking neighbors.
I am proud of the transformational ministry of the Duncan Conference Center, which is known throughout our diocese, the community and indeed, the whole Episcopal Church, as a place of refreshment, rest and re-creation, where individuals and groups can gain renewed energy and inspiration for the work to which we are called. Every time I go to meetings around the Episcopal Church, other bishops come up to me and begin to praise the wonderful hospitality of the Duncan Center. Over 4,000 people—not just Episcopalians, but Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, many other church and community groups–stay at the Duncan Center each year; through that ministry, we touch the lives of more than 4,000 people!
The Duncan Center continues to expand its ministry of hospitality with renovations to existing facilities—all the guest rooms have been renovated–and exciting plans for an outdoor gathering place called the Oasis. You will hear more about that from the Center’s director, Alison Walsh, tomorrow.
My thanks to Alison, her staff and the Duncan Center Board for their innovative ideas and faithful efforts.
I am also happy to inform you that the Regional Youth ministry continues to be active and successful in the different deaneries. Besides all the youth activities taking place in parishes and deaneries, we can boast several annual diocesan youth events like the Youth Convention and the always well-attended Acolyte Festival. I am very proud of the success of the two Happenings weekends for Senior High youth that took place this year and also the New Beginnings program for Junior High. If the young people of your church are not participating in these life changing weekends you are really doing them a disservice. Get going on this–we need, and Christ wants, our youth to be on fire!
But there are other wonderful things that have been taking place in our diocese. Did you know that less than two month ago a team from our diocese was in Madagascar, working alongside Bishop Todd McGregor and his wife, the Rev. Patsy McGregor, handing out medicine and eyeglasses—and kazoos–in addition to treating all kinds of medical conditions, from headaches to leprosy?
We continue having mission teams going to different parts of the Caribbean, Central America, Africa and Navajoland and also several of our youth groups have travelled within the diocese to help with needed repair and refurbishing of facilities at other churches and community outreach ministries. We are a missionary diocese, in this country and abroad.
Did you know that last month the clergy spouses went on their third mission trip to Our Little Roses in Honduras?
Did you know that we worked together with the Diocese of the Dominican Republic in providing aid and support to Haiti after the earthquake? Fr. Smith Milien was one of the first persons to arrive in Haiti from the whole Episcopal Church to provide help and research ways in which we could be of assistance. At the time the only access to Port au Prince was through the Dominican Republic.
Later on Archdeacons Bazin and Hobbs accompanied me and Diana to Haiti to be there as a support to their bishop, who is here with us today. These photographs show the ruins of the Cathedral Sainte Trinité in Port-au-Prince and what is left of Bishop Duracin’s home. This is only a small glimpse of what our sisters and brothers in the Diocese of Haiti have been facing for the past 10 months, and I am happy to inform you that in response to the earthquake disaster in Haiti we were able to raise $300,000 to assist the church and the people of Haiti.
Our diocesan Haiti Recovery Committee under the leadership of David Gury from St. Gregory’s has been working closely with me and with Bishop Duracin and clergy of his diocese to determine how we may be most helpful in Haiti’s recovery.
St. Gregory’s, along with several other congregations, has established the South Florida Haiti Project that concentrates in helping the Episcopal Church of St. Marie Madeleine in Bondeau, Haiti. They are literally transforming the lives of thousands of people who fled the capital after the earthquake to the undamaged coastal community of Bondeau. I wish to commend Deacon Anita Thorstad of St. Gregory’s, who has spent a large part of this year in Bondeau providing leadership and aid to the people of that village and assisting Father Kesner Gracia, who is the priest in charge of that congregation.
Our brothers and sisters in Haiti need us, but we need them even more. This Convention will consider a resolution to start a Companion Relationship with Haiti. I hope that you will approve it.
This 41st Convention of the Diocese of Southeast Florida wants to celebrate and give thanks to God for our companion relationships with the Dioceses of the Bahamas and Turk and Caicos, with the Dominican Republic and with the Diocese of Antananarivo in Madagascar.
We rejoice in the many ways we share in mission with them and with other dioceses of the Anglican Communion around the world. In the ministries we share, we strengthen each other, and it seems we never fail to gain more than we give from the powerful commitment of these faithful partners to our Lord Jesus Christ.
That is what the church is all about; this is what it means to be an Anglican. You are an Anglican by being united with others through the Archbishop of Canterbury—not only with those with whom you agree, but also with the whole Communion, both those who are like you and those who don’t agree with us and our policies and actions in the Episcopal Church. They are also Anglicans, and they are our brothers and sisters.
Before I end this address let me extend a word of thanks and congratulations both to the Daughters of the King and also to the Episcopal Church Women. They are our backbone of prayer and a strong workforce of this diocese. Could you imagine a diocese without the energy and support of our faithful women? No way, Jose! Thank you for what you do.
One last thing: I just want to put to rest the wondering of some about when I am planning to retire. This past month I turned 67 years old and the mandatory retirement age for an Episcopal Bishop is 72. If my math is correct, then if God wills it I’ll be here for a while longer. I love working in this diocese and I love the people who make Southeast Florida a lively, exciting, hardworking, believing diocese.
I have said it before and I will repeat it now, my wife Diana and I give thanks God daily for allowing us to minister amongst you. Our only wish is that you may be as happy with us as we are happy with you.
We are now beginning to see the fruits of our labors for Christ after many years of hard work, even in the midst of financial disaster, anger and dissension in our Church–and hurricanes. I challenge you—because I believe our Lord challenges all of us—to complete the work we have begun for him, to make certain that the ministries in progress continue to bear fruit in the years ahead.
I am committed—as are all members of your diocesan staff—to continue to work with you to expand our common ministry and mission, “to make known to all people the transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, including all, excluding none.”
God bless you!