My beloved in Christ, good afternoon, and blessings from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ.
This afternoon I am thrilled to report to this 42nd Diocesan Convention the excellent news that our diocese, the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida is in very good hands. Yes, you heard me right: The Diocese of Southeast Florida is in very good hands.
Now, allow me to explain myself before you start snickering or thinking that I have thrown overboard any attempt to practice humility. As soon as I share with you why I believe that the Diocese of Southeast Florida is in very good hands, you are bound to agree with me that we are indeed in very good hands.
Our diocese is in very good hands, because we have placed it in the hands of our Lord Jesus Christ, and because our hope and foundation are not based on earthly and material things that pass away and fluctuate up and down, to and fro like a leaf blown by the autumn wind.
I affirm that our diocese is in very good hands, because we have placed our hope and faith in the promises that Christ gave to his Church that its hope would have a firm foundation, the foundation found in God through Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Every day as I face the challenges that comes with my calling I am accustomed to repeat a mantra that reminds me to keep my eyes upon Jesus and on the task that our Lord gave me when I became your bishop.
“Surely, it is God who saves me;
I will trust in him and not be afraid.
For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, and he will be my Savior.”
That message from the twelfth chapter of Isaiah, the First Song of Isaiah, is my message to you today. Our Lord is our stronghold and our sure defense, let us keep trusting him and not be afraid, because he is our Savior.
Jesus Christ our Lord is the one foundation that keeps us together, that sustains us throughout this time.
It is our Lord who allows us to reach our goals regardless of hurricanes, market collapses, division and depression and any other etcetera that may come our way.
We have been called by God to continue with the ministry that he gave the Apostles, and be assured that if we put our trust in Christ and remove fear from our hearts, then God will prove to be our stronghold and our sure defense; our Lord will indeed be our savior.
I have witnessed and experienced throughout all the many years that I have been a bishop that it is God, and only God, who is able to give his Church the strength to go on. We must never loose sight of who we are and whom we serve.
During this Convention we are going to be making important decisions that will affect our ability to do our mission and ministry.
We are facing a resolution that calls for the decrease of the Diocesan Assessment by 1 % every year for the next five years. That may sound like motherhood and apple pie, but if we make that decision, the tragic consequences will be a reduction of the 2012 budget by approximately $200,000, and over the next five years, a total reduction in the diocesan budget of approximately $1 million dollars.
This could lead to an additional unwanted outcome: the closing of the poorest churches of our diocese, which would include not only most of the black, Haitian and Latino churches, as well as several small and less affluent white congregations.
As you well know, we have been working very hard during the last few years to help all of our churches, and especially those in ethnic minority communities and those with fewer financial resources, to achieve a firm financial foundation; but in these deplorable economic times the poor have still been affected the most.
I implore you in the name of the poor and the vulnerable in our diocese to defeat this resolution, which would have such devastating, if unintended, consequences in our mission and ministry.
Moving on now, I have been asked if we have shown the kind of growth this year that we experienced between 2009 and 2010. Well, I am sorry to say that our average weekend attendance (AWA) has decreased somewhat in 2010, but the Easter attendance far exceeded our expectations. Financially, our operating income for all the diocesan parishes was slightly down, primarily due to two of our largest parishes, which were going through a transition in 2010. Both now have new clergy leadership in place and are thriving and moving forward. We will continue with the efforts of the Nehemiah Process to strengthen our message and to empower the messengers.
I am also happy to report that most of our congregations that were searching for new clergy this time last year have now filled these positions. I am also very glad that most of these new diocesan clergy, men and women, are much younger than I. That doesn’t take much!
Transitional times are extremely vital times in the lives of those parishes experiencing change. Four of our largest parishes and three medium-sized parishes have called new leadership this past year, so I think we can safely expect our growth to continue upward in 2012.
With the Bishop’s Ministry Grant Program, which I announced to you at least year’s convention, we have also provided the funds in three congregations needing assisting clergy.
Here again we have strategically called and placed vibrant young clergy in parishes with growth potential for 2012 and on into the future.
(By the way, last May we had seven graduating seminarians, all of whom have been placed in continuing ministry in one form or another). Church growth can be measured in many different ways!
The Bishop’s Ministry Grants have also been instrumental in helping our Companion Dioceses of the Bahamas, Dominican Republic and Madagascar.
They also made possible the Regional Ministries of the Chapel of St. Andrew’s and St. Gregory in the South Palm Beach Deanery; and St. George’s and St. Mark’s in the North Palm Beach Deanery.
Grants went to complete the salary and benefits package for a chaplain to nursing homes in the North Palm Beach Deanery; the St. Columba’s Music Ministry in the Keys Deanery; the St. Stephen’s ministry to those under 40 in the South Dade Deanery; the Latin Radio program that has now the highest rating of all Spanish religious radio programs serving Miami-Dade County and parts of Broward. The Bishop’s Ministry Grants also help to establish Grace Church Multimedia Project for youth in the North Palm Beach Deanery.
It also empowered congregations and clergy of the diocese by sponsoring Preaching Workshops and the All Things Media (ATM) training for clergy and parish staff and volunteers in the use of electronic media tools for communication in the digital age.
I also want to point out to you that at my direction, the Property and Loan Committee committed extensive funding through our Slemaker Fund to one of our original regional ministry initiatives in the Broward Deanery, the New River Regional Ministry. All Saint’s Church, with its outreach arm of El Centro, St. Ambrose Church and St. Ambrose School are forging ahead with new ministry concepts and outreach to that portion of Broward County. This past Sunday I had the pleasure to visit both St. Ambrose and then All Saints, Ft. Lauderdale, to confirm and receive quite a large class in both churches. It’s always a joy to welcome new members to our church.
I also want to note that a self-funding regional ministry is taking place in the North Dade Deanery. I want to commend the leadership of Historic St. Agnes, which together with the congregations of St. Kevin’s and Transfiguration, have strengthened their ministry using their own resources.
At this convention I am announcing a new initiative that will allow us as a diocese to face the challenges that the future will surely bring to the structures that support our common life.
Many of the ways we organize ourselves to do the necessary business of the Church as an organization and to share our resources have been with us for well over a century; I am sure that you will agree that we must be prepared to be more nimble in the ways we serve as the Body of Christ in this 21st Century. We can’t be a Model-T in the age of the hybrid car, or expect to share the Good News by Morse code in the world of Twitter!
To respond to these challenges I am calling for a workgroup composed of representatives from around our diocese to begin analyzing our existing diocesan structures and proposing necessary revisions—and this will include financial revisions. This group is not intended to replace the State of the Church Committee.
I hope that in 2012 and 2013 we may seriously look at the way we accomplish our work. We need to look at what has worked in past and what may serve us in the future, and also proceed to begin implementing those changes that could make us more efficient in doing our ministry.
Life teaches us that without change, our ways will wither and drop like the leaves of fall, so change needs to be a part of life, and life renewed.
However, we must make the changes from confidence, and not from fear; fear can paralyze us and strip us of our vision, destabilizing our best efforts.
British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, who served during the upheavals of the 1960s and ‘70s, said that he who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution that rejects progress is the cemetery.
But to move ahead and encounter the future with all of its challenges, we need to be constantly reminded in whose hands we are secure and in whom we have put our trust.
If we continue in faith, we are not only in the hands of Christ but we will become those hands in our purpose and mission!
And now allow this immigrant to this great nation to give God thanks for this our beloved country, a country fashioned as our Prayer Book says, “into one united people from the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues.”
And let us never forget that our torch of freedom remains lit because of the sacrifice of men and women of our Armed Forces that throughout the years have offered their service and their lives for our country. We stand in their shadow and enjoy the fruits of their sacrifices.
I am aware that I am not the President of this republic but I will end by saying, much as the president does: God bless our diocese, God bless the Episcopal Church, and God bless the United States of America!
Thank you very much.