This is the text of the address of the Rt. Rev. Rayford B.High, Jr., sixth bishop of Fort Worth, to the 2014 Diocesan Convention, November 15, 2014, at Globe Life Park in Arlington.
Around 55 A.D., at Ephesus, Paul wrote one of the most valuable letters not only about life in a particular local church, but about his, Paul’s, character, mind and vigorous presentation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
His words from the 12th chapter of his first letter to the church at Corinth are my touchstone into my annual address:
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit… For the body does not consist of one member but of many. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”
My sisters and brothers, we are members of that body of Christ here in the Diocese of Fort Worth. Yes, we are individual followers of Jesus Christ and together we are His body, the church, working together for Christ’s sake. So keep Paul’s words in mind during my annual address.
As you know, when I make a visitation with you all in your congregations, I begin the service with a few personal words, so why change my approach today!
I wish to begin by saying to you I am privileged to be the sixth bishop of Fort Worth and I was honored to be asked to serve another year among you.
Pat and I are so thankful for your prayers of support and your friendship. And I have been blessed for these 50 years to have Pat as my wife and fellow traveler. She has gone with me on visitations throughout this great diocese. I want to say, “Thank you, Pat.”
You all know one could not do the work and ministry of this office without others working in the vineyard alongside of me — your diocesan staff:
- Canon Janet Waggoner who cares for details on a daily basis and is our transition minister, working with congregations.
- Bob Hicks, our steady, reliable, and dedicated treasurer of the diocese
- Bruce Coggin, our meticulous Secretary of Convention and Executive Council
- Kathleen Wells, who tries to keep me out of trouble and who has worked tirelessly on our litigation.
- Katie Sherrod, our communications director, who helps with my TV and video appearances and articles, plus continually writes stories of the great ministries we are doing here.
- Susan Kleinwechter, our social media guru, enabling us to have our mission spread far and wide.
This year there were several transitions among your diocesan staff. Michele King replaced Eleanor Doty as receptionist and bishop support person, and we added several new responsibilities for her – like “Magical Michele’s Catering Service” for diocesan events. Bob’s assistant, Adriana Cline, assisted us with data base upgrades earlier this year as well as doing more in the financial realm. The Rev. Tracie Middleton was added to our staff not only for ministry support of our congregations but also to take on some of the communication challenges before us. Tracie not only brings great computer skills to the diocesan office, but also organizational skills and a very good personal touch. Through these changes we were able to bring some communication functions in-house, eliminate some contracted services, and stay on budget for 2014.
You can be proud of your diocesan staff not only for the good work being done on your behalf, but for their sacrifice, their good spirit as they serve the diocese, and welcoming attitudes.
I want to turn our attention to some exciting things going on in our diocese. Several of our congregations participated in and completed “Recasting our Assets” with profound results, I believe.
I must say all of our congregations, from my perspective, have become healthier, stronger, and are doing Christ’s work where they are. Let me remind you of some of our good news — and I am sure I’ll leave out something.
- The congregations of Christ the King and St. Elisabeth’s came together in Advent 2013, worshipping and working together at St. Elisabeth’s under the leadership of Mother Sandi Michels.
- All Saints, Good Shepherd and St. Stephen’s in Wichita Falls came together this fall under one roof, calling themselves “The Episcopal Church of Wichita Falls.” All Saints’, Good Shepherd, and St. Stephen’s had been served by a faithful group of very fine circuit riders and by the Rev. John Payne during the past five years. Recently, “The Episcopal Church of Wichita Falls” called the Rev. Amy Haynie as their priest in charge, worshipping, working, and meeting at St. Stephen’s.
- St. Stephen’s, Hurst, said goodbye to the wedding chapel as their worship space, rented a building, and made it into a church, parish hall, meeting room, and youth room – and it’s not that big — but it is working well. They also said goodbye to their long time priest, the Rev. Dr. Vernon Gotcher, and are beginning a search for a part-time priest.
- St. Mary’s, Hamilton, had their worship space, a house, sold by the family that had been so generously hosting them. Before that happened, though, they found a vacant church facility, formerly a four square gospel church (with a picture of Jesus painted on the wall), and made it into an Episcopal Church. It even has handicap bathrooms!
- St. Andrew’s, through the generosity of Trinity, worshiped there at 5 pm on Sunday until they moved to University Christian Church where their services are at 11:15 am in the Good Shepherd Chapel. They have seen a 66% increase in attendance in the past few months.
- St. Luke’s, Stephenville, continues to offer a free lunch on Wednesdays for the students at Tarleton State University, where, this year, they are seeing an average of well over 200 students per week. Also, Father Norman has started a partnership with the Lutheran Synod, hosting a regular service for Lutherans there and in neighboring towns.
- St. Luke’s in the Meadow, Fort Worth, said goodbye to their retiring rector, Mother Susan Slaughter. The vestry decided to enrich their worship by using a good stable of supply priests until they called their new part-time rector, Mother Karen Calafat.
- St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Keller, is close to calling a new rector and has been served by an interim priest, Father Michael Wallens.
As I said earlier, please forgive me if I failed to touch on other congregational highlights. I am so proud and grateful for the ministry you all are carrying out and for your support.
Let me share with you some thoughts about our diocese and its ministry.
Since our restructuring of the Executive Council in 2013 we are working and learning well together.The Management group has made great strides in its understanding of its role. This year, we, your Executive Council,
- Adopted by-laws for the Executive Council
- Approved and overhauled the diocesan Safeguarding Manual and Training for Laity and Clergy, through the guidance of John Loggins of All Saints, Fort Worth. He is available to assist with training. You’ll note he has a sheriff’s badge on.
- Approved a diocesan Lay Employee Manual.
We, as a diocese, this year continued our financial and prayerful commitments to:
- Brite Divinity School
- Seminary of the Southwest
- The University of the South
- The School of Theology at Sewanee
Incidentally, at Sewanee there are at least 10 students from our diocese in the University, one graduate of the Seminary this past spring, seven groups of Education for Ministry in the diocese, and we rank #13 among 28 owning dioceses in our financial support. Pretty good for the diocese!
We are one of 111 dioceses of The Episcopal Church and at our last General Convention in 2012, there were 39 resolutions passed and sent on to each of these 111 dioceses for appropriate consideration by dioceses, diocesan committees, and congregations. Of the 39, we are involved on some level of work in 23 of the resolutions. Some resolutions will require diocesan conversation and in some cases a vote. I am referring them to Executive Council for consideration and counsel.
Among the many resolutions’ at 2012 General Convention was B026, entitled “Implementation of the Denominational Health Plan,” acknowledging 94% of domestic diocese including Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands for their enrollment in the plan, urging all other dioceses to do likewise, commending the Medical Trust for their work and to urge them to continue exploring alternative strategies to arrive at a more equitable sharing of health care premium costs. And the last resolve read: “parity in cost sharing shall be achieved between clergy and lay employees by December 2015.”
As you remember, our diocese has struggled with this last for the past two conventions and this past year, the compensation work group of the Finance Committee worked long and hard meeting with lots of folks to come to a resolution.
Their resolution: Give it to the bishop.
Let me share with you my thoughts on how to proceed:
First, I need to say we are not at parity through-out the diocese and we need to be honest about that. Most other dioceses I have talked to are not either. That is a fact statement. For me, that is not the end of the discussion. I want us to get there.
Second, where I have oversight with new hires, we will provide paid medical coverage for the clergy person and the lay employee. This will be a part of their contract.
There are arrangements in congregations which have been there for some time and there are circumstances unique to each congregation. Those prior commitments will stay in place.
Finally, I am asking the compensation committee to continue working on this very complicated and challenging situation in our church, keeping our Executive Council updated, and report to our next convention.
Before I come to the last part of my address I must remind us we are part of a larger family than the Diocese of Fort Worth and the Episcopal Church. As St. Paul reminded us earlier, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit, we are all baptized into one body…”
As you may remember hearing last Spring, along with several others from our diocese, I attended the conference in Oklahoma City, “Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace,” and while there I joined other bishops in attendance at lunch with the Rt. Rev. and Most Honorable Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, at which time I asked him for a word for us here in the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. After several comments of support, Archbishop Welby said, “I do not recognize ACNA and I will not recognize them.”
Recently, he reiterated that comment and made it crystal clear in an interview for the Church of Ireland, saying, “ACNA is not part of the Anglican Communion.” And again, “Well, the ACNA is a separate church. It is not part of the Anglican Communion.”
We are the real, legitimate members of the world wide Anglican Communion and that has consequences and ramifications. You see, my sisters and brothers in Fort Worth, we are all part of something bigger than our parishes. In fact our diocese is part of Province VII of The Episcopal Church, which includes Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas, Arkansas, and Western Louisiana. And we do things together as fellow workers in the vineyard of the Lord. As a member of The Episcopal Church, we are part of 38 Provinces of the Anglican Communion throughout the world, with about 80 million Episcopalians and Anglicans, working for Christ and His mission in our world.
Finally, let me speak to you all about our future as the body of Christ in these 24 counties of North Texas called the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth.
As I have said before, when I go around the diocese on visitations and meetings, I continue to see a vibrant spirit among you all, a welcoming attitude to all people, and a desire to continue to work on Christ’s mission where I live. I’ll say it again, I am grateful for all you do!
It is no secret to any of us that the first part of the 21st century in our country and especially in our diocese, has been marked by breath-taking changes in our population growth, in the religious landscape all around us, and huge shifts in social changes. We, as a church, have made and are making right now some choices about how or if we respond to our world — just sit around and watch things happen, change, grow; or, maybe, voice our displeasure at what is happening; or, engage our world as disciples of Jesus Christ, determined to make a difference in people’s lives and in our communities because we know we are part of God’s transforming power.
As your bishop, I strongly believe we have been given this extraordinary opportunity in this diocese, at this time, to do God’s mission.You remember in the Catechism in the Prayer Book “the mission of the church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ” and it does this mission as “it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel and promotes justice, peace and love.” And who does this mission? “The church, this church, this diocese, our congregations, carry out its missions through the ministry of all its members, young and old, lay and ordained.”
After another year with you, I have seen a church who loves to serve others in so many varied and beautiful ways.
Let’s be quite clear: the “others” we serve are God’s children regardless of their status in life, still precious in God’s eyes. I see you doing God’s work of restoration and transformation through ministries such as:
- Taking time to talk with a confused college student or offering a really good meal weekly.
- Sitting with a child as they try to read, to do math, and giving them words of encouragement.
- Taking communion to a retirement home, singing old-time favorite hymns, and visiting with the residents sharing Christ’s love.
- Telling a prisoner something many have never heard: God indeed loves you and cares for you. And there are those of us who are assisting in helping former inmates to re-enter society as useful citizens.
- I have had the privilege of making sandwiches with young people and adults to be distributed to a night shelter. A lesson of service for each of us, as we “did it to the least of these.”
- Reaching out to someone and simply inviting them to join you in worship, maybe in a storefront or a theatre or an old church building; showing you care enough about them to share what you have found.
- I have seen “Radical Hospitality” in action, in person.
There are so many more examples I could share with you and that you could add. I want to believe we share Christ’s love, are His hands and feet and ears, because we are Christians, trying to live out our baptismal covenant where we live.
My vision for this Diocese of Fort Worth is to continue to move forward in doing God’s mission.
To assist us in keeping this momentum going and continue to be what God is calling us to do, I am asking you all to join me in two missional initiatives, both complementing each other.
First, a little background: At the request of your Standing Committee I was asked to invite Bishop [C. Andrew] Doyle of [the Episcopal Diocese of] Texas to meet with the Standing Committee to explore and discuss ways we as the diocese could benefit from some of the good work they at the Diocese of Texas have accomplished, and talk about possible ways Texas could assist us during our transition period over the next few years in the areas of evangelism, church growth, and church planting, and the episcopacy. The Standing Committee and I are very clear we do not want, nor is there any intention of having, a discussion of merging or absorption. As Bishop Doyle said several times, “We want to be a good neighbor and partner.” After he met with the Standing Committee, Bishop Doyle, at my invitation, met with some lay and elected lay leaders of the diocese, as well as clergy.
I would respectfully ask this convention to allow me and the Standing Committee to continue this dialogue with the bishop of Texas and his leadership, keeping our Executive Council updated. Let’s see where the Holy Spirit leads us!
I believe this conversation with our generous neighboring Diocese of Texas could be immensely helpful as we move forward in God’s mission. I will keep you informed about our talks.
The second missional initiative I offer is to allow us to respond pro-actively, as I believe God is calling us to do, to the challenges facing us in this 21st century.
Because of our humanity, some of us may say, “wait and see” what the future looks like and remain in a holding pattern until we reach clarity in our future.
I have shared with you the need is great in sharing the loving Gospel of Jesus Christ our Lord to a world who needs the unique worship, mission, outreach, welcome, our Episcopal Church can provide. I have already shared wonderful examples of your ministry.To this end, I strongly believe it is imperative we begin a campaign to raise money for our mission work beyond what we can do right now through our diocesan and congregation budgets.
Again, some background. Earlier this year, the Finance Committee agreed it was necessary for us to raise additional money to enable us to move forward in mission. This was presented to the church corporation and from that group of elected leadership came the title “Funding for the Future.” Later in the spring, the Executive Council endorsed this initiative and a committee of the Finance Committee and staff interviewed several firms who assist dioceses in capital ventures. RSI of Dallas was the unanimous choice to help us move forward. Led by a fellow Episcopalian, Terry Goolsby, they have worked with lots of dioceses and congregations including Alabama, Chicago, Indianapolis and, most recently, St. Mark’s Cathedral and School in Shreveport.
From members of our diocese, I have heard the strong and enthusiastic desire to raise money for church plantings- not one plant, but several; assist congregations who have extraordinary needs or just need resources for a UUMPH or jump start; support for the future episcopacy, enable us to do more in college ministry, and I would say, taking a percentage of what we raise for ourselves and use that to support a possible companion diocese relationship.These are only a sampling of the needs before us. And some of us believe we can raise more than 3 million dollars over a 3-to-5-year period. We need you to assist us. Part of this whole “Funding for our Future” process is to gather your feedback.The RSI team is totally interested in your opinions and viewpoints. In late January and early February, we will be asking every parishioner from every congregation to take part in a survey to determine our next steps. Our clergy will have a vital part in this process.
So, my friends in Christ, I ask you to enthusiastically join me and other leaders in “Funding for our Future.”
We are the body of Christ, here in this part of Texas, maybe small in number, yet we, the church, have been blessed by almighty God with abundant gifts for doing this ministry and mission. As the Diocese of Fort Worth, let us step forward in sure and certain faith, responding to the call of Christ to do His work.