Convention address: “On fire with the Spirit”

Convention address: “On fire with the Spirit”

Bishop J. Scott Mayer addressed the 2016 Diocesan Convention on Saturday, November 12. His theme was “On Fire with the Spirit.” You can read the text below.

Fort Worth Convention Address 2016
November 12

I would like to begin this morning by expressing gratitude to the people of the Fort Worth West Deanery, including All Saints’ Episcopal Church, All Saints’ Episcopal School, and St Elisabeth’s and Christ the King. I want to especially recognize Father Chris Jambor of All Saints’, Mother Sandi Michels of St Elisabeth’s/Christ the King, Dr. Tad Bird (Head of School), Ms. Lynn Gant, Mr. Tex Nolan, Mr. Chris Osborne, and Mr. Brent Loving for your leadership and service to the diocese through the planning and work of this convention. Let’s show our appreciation.

Every convention is a transition. At this time I would like to show gratitude to all those who have served in various capacities and are rotating off or resigning from positions. These include: from Constitution and Canons, Walt Cabe, Connie Lefler, David Madison, and Scot McComas; from the Schools Commission, Bill Stanford and Corrie Cabes; from the Disciplinary Board, Judy Cariker, Henry Penner, and John Stanley; as University of the South Trustee, Cynthia Hill; as Church Attorney, Jan Schattman; from the Commission on Ministry, Andrew Wright, Cristy Campbell-Furtick, and Roberta Skelton; and from the Standing Committee, Carlye Hughes and Mollee Westfall. Would those of you that I just named please stand. Let’s show our gratitude.

I would like to recognize some people today. First, I would like to recognize some members of my family: my wife Kathy, who will be hosting the Spouses Luncheon today; my mother, Mary Mayer; my brother, Cliff, and his wife, Shelly. Shelly has been confirmed since the last diocesan convention; she was confirmed on Easter Day.

We have a guest from my staff in Northwest Texas. My good friend and colleague, Mike Ehmer, serves as the Canon to the Ordinary. Please welcome my family and Mike.

I would like to recognize and thank our three guest presenters for our workshops. Catherine Lillibridge from San Antonio, has a passion for a movement called Open Table. The Open Table Model creates community and transformation with the homeless, the working poor, young adults transitioning out of foster care, veterans, survivors of human trafficking and more. While congregational members join Tables and help others, they soon realize they are changed forever by the relationships they create. The stories are profound. Kathy and I have known Catherine for over seven years. Catherine and her husband Gary are dear friends. Please welcome Catherine Lillibridge.

Eric Law has been a consultant and author for over twenty years. He founded the Kaleidoscope Institute ten years ago to help others create sustainable and missional ministries. This week he brings to us a holistic model for stewardship and congregational vitality called Holy Currencies. The goal of Holy Currencies is to transform the way community and church leaders think about church – from a static, linear, maintenance-type model to a dynamic, circulatory, rejuvenating vision. Eric Law made a difference in my life approximately fifteen years ago, when he came to convention in Northwest Texas to do anti-racism training. Please welcome Eric Law.

David Rice, Bishop of San Joaquin and yesterday’s preacher – thank you for your sermon. By now, David probably doesn’t need an introduction. In today’s workshop he will talk about “Building the plane as we fly it.” He knows something about that. The first time I met David, I made the terrible – nearly unforgivable – mistake of asking him about life in Australia. David is from New Zealand. As other bishops within earshot gasped in horror, I recognized my mistake, went to my knees, and begged for mercy. For I knew that was nearly as bad as confusing Midland with Odessa. Or Fort Worth with  . . . Please welcome David Rice.

I would like to introduce two new members of my staff, my new assisting bishops, Rayford High and Sam Hulsey. I am grateful for their service to this diocese; I couldn’t have better friends and mentors.

Now, speaking of my staff, you may recall that last year I stated that Bishop High’s greatest gift to me was the talented and dedicated staff he called together to serve this diocese. You will hear more about their contributions in and through this diocese later in this address, but I would like to thank them publicly for their work during my sabbatical – the longer hours and personal sacrifices. At this time I would like to introduce and express gratitude for our Treasurer’s Assistant, Adriana Cline; Administrative Assistant, Michele King; Ministry Support and Communications Officer, Deacon Tracie Middleton; Communications Director, Katie Sherrod; Social Media Coordinator Susan Kleinwechter, and Canon to the Ordinary, Janet Waggoner.

Finally, I would like to express my gratitude to the Standing Committee, to all of you, and to all who made possible my sabbatical. Sabbatical is a time of rest, primarily, and I did rest – much of the time on our back porch with a book. There were days when I did nothing and accomplished absolutely nothing, and eventually I didn’t even feel guilty about that.


If there was a unifying theme or goal for this sabbatical, it was spending time with my family – often involving travel. In July, Kathy and I went to Chicago for a few days and did a “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” – including two Chicago Cubs games at Wrigley Field, the Art Institute, and an architectural tour on the Chicago River. In August, Mom and I traveled to the Sacramento area of California to spend time with her brother and his extended family (my cousins). They enjoy parading me around so friends can hear me talk; sometimes they needed translation.

In late September Kathy and I went to Spain and Portugal with Kathy’s two sisters and brother-in-law; we were privileged to see Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia and Picasso’s museum in Barcelona, the Alhambra in Granada, as well as take various wine and tapas tours. And in late October, we went to Charleston, South Carolina, with my brother Cliff and his wife Shelly, and managed to try a different recipe for shrimp and grits nearly every day.

Perhaps the highlight of the sabbatical was sitting on a dock at a small lake south of Abilene, baiting hooks for our grandsons, James and Max. That’s when I started losing track of the days – not simply the date, but days. I consider this sabbatical to be a gift; not so much something deserved, as something needed.

I want to say a few words about sabbaticals in general. I don’t make these remarks to justify my own sabbatical, but rather to encourage congregations and clergy to make such provisions in your letters of agreements or covenants.

Truly, we clergy are privileged to do something with our lives that we are called to do. Not everyone is so fortunate. And we are privileged to be invited into your lives on your most joyous occasions, as well as in your most vulnerable, and poignant, and painful moments. It is a fulfilling and rewarding life if one is called to it – like any vocation or true calling.

One of our priests remarked to me recently that polls show that clergy are the most fulfilled of all people by their vocation, but they are the second-most stressed of all people – behind air-traffic-controllers. I’m not asking for sympathy (my father used to say where one can find sympathy – in the dictionary). But, priests and pastors don’t “turn off” some internal pastoral-care switch one day a week on their Sabbath. They love you, and care for you, and pray for you 24/7. Most clergy wouldn’t trade that privilege for anything. I’m not asking for sympathy. But I am seeking sabbaticals for our priests who have served and led a congregation for seven years. Besides, it is a good thing for clergy to know that the world will turn without them. And it’s good for you to know it, too.

On fire

So, the theme for this year’s Diocesan Convention is “On Fire with the Spirit,” which does call to mind the Day of Pentecost. And last night we did have some fun with the flame-shaped hats that bishops wear during liturgies. [At one moment I wondered if our “fun” should be accompanied by such lyrics as “Come on baby light my fire,” or “I fell into a burning ring of fire.”]

Of course, it’s not that the bishop came back from sabbatical “all fired up” that is significant. It is significant that last night EVERYONE was wearing a flame-shaped hat (a mitre) and the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth is “on fire with the Spirit” – and people have noticed that, ranging from your communities to the wider Church.

I’m about to name some ways the diocese has been recognized, but before I do that, I want to make an important point: all the recognition our diocese is receiving, and all the funds that are coming our way, are because of the work that is happening and the risks you are taking day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year. Each and every one of our congregations has risked something new in the past couple of years. Some things have worked well. Some things have not, but when they don’t, you try again or you try something else.

In early February, we learned that the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church was having its winter meeting at the American Airlines Center. As is customary when they meet in a host city, I (as bishop) received an invitation to make a presentation at dinner and to have some of my staff and clergy join me in that presentation. This ignited (I like that word) a conversation about how to best engage with the Executive Council regarding the good news of what the Diocese of Fort Worth is doing.

So, my amazing staff swung into high gear. Michele, Tracie, and Katie artfully put together a thumb drive full of videos and documents telling the story of the continuing Diocese of Fort Worth, and they made a bookmark with a timeline of our story, including all the “firsts” since the reorganization of the diocese – like first woman ordained, first church planted, and so forth.

Canon Waggoner went into grant writing mode to make a proposal, and Katie (who had served previously on the Executive Council) and Gayland hosted the Council for dinner the previous night. And finally, Corrie Cabes of St Martin-in-the-Fields, Mother Karen Calafat of St Luke’s in the Meadow, Father Kevin Johnson of St Alban’s, Canon Janet Waggoner, and I made a presentation. I can report that the Council was moved by the stories told about this diocese.

When the Executive Council asked how they could help, we were ready with an answer: we have congregations that are growing – overall the diocese grew by over 19% in communicant members and by nearly 12% in operating revenue during the three year span from 2013 through 2015 –  and we expressed a need for funds to help recruit more clergy leadership to meet the demands of growth. Our challenges are challenges of growth, not survival. We asked for $600,000 in grant funds. And they did not say no! What they said was this: “We want to do this; let’s figure out how.”

In June, the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church voted to support finding the funds for the full amount requested by the diocese, and they gave a $217,500 cash grant to the Diocese of Fort Worth from the operating budget of the Episcopal Church. Then they asked the presiding bishop to help raise another $200,000 to $300,000. And then they offered to help the diocese work with the Advisory Group on Church Planting to obtain a $100,000 grant toward another church plant in the diocese. It was a good day.

Pulling together a winning grant proposal is always a challenge; it’s part strategic alignment with the goals of the overall granting organization, and part throwing spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks. In the end, the Executive Council gave us a grant designed to help us continue to grow.

Some of these funds are designated to bring the salaries of two priests in our diocese from half-time to full-time. Mother Karen at St Luke’s in the Meadow and Father Kevin at St Alban’s had left full-time positions for part-time positions, because they believed in the future of the congregations they are serving. These grant funds will bring their salaries to a full-time level for two years.

Some of these funds are designated for curacy positions to help our larger congregations increase clergy staffing in order to facilitate their growth and to train new clergy under the excellent leadership of experienced priests and pastors. The remainder of these funds are designated for a salary for a church planter to help jump-start a new church plant.

Having said all that, there is more – beyond the support of the Executive Council. In May, it was announced that the Episcopal Church Building Fund would provide a $500,000 loan to Theatre Arlington to help jump-start their capital campaign.

By way of reminder, the Episcopal Church Building Fund came to know this diocese better through the “Recasting” program in which seven of our congregations participated for a full year during 2013-2014. Well, they were inspired by the adventurous spirit of our congregations.

So, when they saw an opportunity to join together in ministry with Theatre Arlington and St Alban’s, renewing the heart of Arlington, they did something creative and outside the box that they have never done before. They made a loan to a non-profit organization working together with a congregation. They did not make a loan to a congregation or a diocese.

And there is more. The entire Fort Worth East Deanery (which includes St Stephen’s, St Martin-in-the-Fields, St Luke’s, and St Alban’s) has come together to form the 4 Saints Food Pantry in an effort to provide food for hungry people in the Meadowbrook neighborhood – a food desert in the city of Fort Worth. They have formed a board with members from the four congregations. And they have a special board member, too – Annabelle Sauer, a Girl Scout from Troop 3012. Through Annabelle’s efforts, 4 Saints Food Pantry received a $500 grant from a local utility company. Annabelle and her Girl Scout Troop Leaders -Teresa Sauer and Janet Waggoner – are here today.

Recently, 4 Saints Food Pantry also received a $20,000 grant from funds set aside by General Convention for Mission Enterprise Zones. Patti Callahan is president of the board of 4 Saints Food Pantry, and she is the author of this winning grant. Patti is here today.

The Diocese of Fort Worth is on the map in terms of being known as a place for innovation and risk-taking adventures. We are bucking the trend, and we are growing. And people in our diocese are leading efforts that are building bridges between our diocese, our communities, and our broader Episcopal Church – and I would like to name a few examples:

Marti Fagley – Daughters of the King,
Scot McComas – Brotherhood of St Andrew,
Jackie Meeks – Province VII representative for Episcopal Church Women,
Susan Kleinwechter – Member of Episcopal Communicators,
Amy Haynie – Board member of the Episcopal Womenís Caucus,
Kathleen Wells – Board member of the Seminary of the Southwest and board member of Texas Impact,
David Madison – Executive Director of the Southwest Association of Episcopal Schools,
Michele King – Vice President of BEST (Bishop;s Executive Secretaries Together),
Janet Waggoner – Member of the Advisory Group on Church Planting; Co-Convener of the Consultation (a group of the chairs of justice related organizations in the Church); board member of the Episcopal Women’s Caucus; Planning Team member for “Now What?’ Symposiums on Repurposing with the Episcopal Building Fund,
Katie Sherrod – President of the House of Deputy’s Council of Advice; Task Force on the Episcopacy; board member of Texas Impact, leader in Episcopal Communicators,
Tracie Middleton – Young Deacons Task Force; member of Episcopal Communicators.

You are active and visible in and through and beyond the Church. And bucking the religious decline trend, you are growing.


Last May, I attended Commencement at the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin. Andrew Ellison graduated that day. At any rate, the bishop of Chicago, Jeff Lee, preached at that event. He said in the sermon that in Chicago they have some congregations and agencies that “are bucking the trend of religious decline, and are thriving by several different measures. And they defy easy categories” – and he named a few. I’m sure there are more than a few, as Chicago is a thriving diocese.

Bishop Lee says: “What I cannot give you is some kind of formula that has been the magic key to their vitality. …I’ve puzzled over it with my staff. What do they have in common? The best we’ve been able to come up with is this. Three things stand out.

“Number one: each of these is crystal clear about its identity. …Within about five minutes of being with them you pretty much know what they are about, what they focus on.

“The second thing is that these are places and people having conversations about things that matter. Not wasting a lot of time on arguments about the color of the napkins they value and foster conversations about life and death, serving and challenging injustice, and what it might mean to follow Christ in the office on Tuesday morning.

“The third (and probably most important) thing is that these ministries have HEART. Leaders at every level are ‘all in.’ There is engagement. There is confidence in God. There is obvious joy. There is the unmistakable whiff of the Gospel. The proclamation at the heart of each of these churches is the death-defeating love of God in Jesus.”

Three things in common, three things that stand out: each congregation has clarity about its identity, knowing who they are and what they are about; they tend to talk about the things that matter; and they have heart.

I see these three things in you. This diocese is developing an identity rapidly (not simply who we are not, but who we are), and every congregation has at least some sense of what you are about. More and more you are talking about the things that matter. Now, it’s true that Episcopalians are going to argue about the napkins. Getting the napkins right is an expression of hospitality. So, I would be less than honest if I didn’t report that I hear a little of that. If it isn’t the napkins, it’s the vestments. But, you ARE engaged in deep conversations about things that matter – just look at the type of speakers you bring in for diocesan workshops. And heart? God knows you have heart – especially a heart for those on the margins.

The world needs heart. That’s not new. Jonathan Kozol, a sociologist, spent a decade with the children of a South Bronx neighborhood known for its poverty, pollution, crime, and sense of despair. Three books came from that experience, all indicting our society’s neglect of children in our poorest neighborhoods.

Kozol tells of one extended conversation with two little girls, one of them eleven years old, the other eight – Stephanie and Lucia. I remind you, this is a tough neighborhood. Here’s the conversation, as told by Jonathan Kozol:

‘When I asked Lucia what she loves most in the world she says, ‘I love my heart.’ She manages to get some reference to her heart, or to ‘God’s heart,’ or just to hearts in general, into a lot of conversations.

“How powerful is God?’ I ask. ‘He’s powerful [enough] to make hearts,’ she replies.’ … ‘ God NEEDS to make hearts,’ she told me firmly one day …

“Stephanie [the eleven-year-old] also speaks of ‘God’s heart,’ and her own heart. ,,, I asked her once what she believed would make the world a better place. She answered, ‘What would make the world better is God’s heart. I know God’s heart is already in the world. But I would like it if He would … PUSH the heart more into it. Not just halfway. Push it more!”

Kozol observes that Stephanie’s image – God’s Heart – sounds like a gigantic pump for circulation, and that “push it more” sounds like what a coach might say to an athlete, an effort to encourage Him to do a better job. It sounds like a pretty good prayer to me – from a little girl who knows what the world needs.

Most of the children in Kozol’s study attended an after-school program at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in the Bronx. Many attended services on Sunday. Some served as acolytes. Maybe by participating in the liturgy, the Holy Eucharist week after week, they came to intuit the Christian story so vividly.

Maybe they came to intuit the meaning of this gigantic circulating pump as circulating the Blood of Christ through the Living Limbs of the Body, the Body gathered every Sunday, to receive from God’s Heart … and here’s the rest: to push God’s heart into the world.

Yesterday’s preacher, Bishop Rice, became an especially good friend to me when I found myself in similar circumstances to his: serving a so-called “continuing diocese.” Both dioceses have suffered the grief of devastating division; both dioceses have been involved in litigation; and both dioceses are participating in resurrection, rather than trying to re-build an old church. In the midst of all of this, and all of the uncertainty, it has been David’s constant message that in all circumstances “we need to be the Church.”

I’m mindful that the same disciples who were all together in one place on the day of Pentecost, the same disciples who were filled with the Holy Spirit, and on whom “tongues, as of fire, rested,” were once hiding in a room out of fear. The Church is a resurrected Body.

As the story goes, “like the rush of a violent wind,” and “with tongues, as of fire,” the Holy Spirit is made manifest among and within the followers of the Risen Christ.

We tend to call this event the Church’s birthday. I think the magnitude of its importance is described well in one of our Eucharistic prayers – actually the oldest Eucharistic Prayer in our book, from Basil in the 4th century (prayer D). A portion of the prayer, recalling our salvation history, reads like this:

“And, that we might live no longer for ourselves, but for him who died and rose for us, he sent the Holy Spirit, his own first gift for those who believe, to complete his work in the world, and to bring to fulfillment the sanctification of all.” He sent the Holy Spirit to complete his work in and through the community of faith, the Church.

Now that means a lot of things. One thing it describes is a high understanding of the Church. It means the Church participates in the work of the Spirit, has a role and responsibility in the reconciling work of Christ. That’s how we might define “high church” theology. That’s one thing.

It also implies that the work of the Spirit is dynamic. This is not a stagnant religion that happened a long time ago, once upon a time. The Spirit did not stop acting in the world after the Bible was written or after the Creeds were confirmed.

Rather, Christianity is a dynamic religion fueled by the Holy Spirit, Who is both present and active here and now. And like wind and fire, the same Spirit can be spontaneous, and elusive, and unpredictable, and powerful – just as the Spirit can be quiet as a whisper – the still, small voice. But either way, like a wind that “blows where it will,” the Spirit is uncontrollable and untamable.

I believe that same wind is blowing today – perhaps in a new way – not only in and through this diocese, and not only through The Episcopal Church, but throughout Christianity. That may be a surprising claim, given that fewer people are calling themselves “Christian;” and many are wringing their hands over the decline in numbers and the loss of influence throughout Western Civilization; and probably no Christian tradition in our time has escaped the pain of division.

And yet, many believe, and I believe too, a new wind is blowing, and it cuts across all denominational boundaries. And whether we call this new day a Reformation (re-formation), or the Emerging Church, it appears that a fundamental shift in our self-understanding is beginning to emerge. One way I’ve heard it described is this: Christianity is moving from presenting itself as a system of beliefs to presenting itself as a way of life. For people are hungry for more than doctrine, more than knowing ABOUT God. People are hungry for an encounter with God.


People are starved for a new way of life which leads to a sense of God’s presence, a path which leads to the abundant life which Jesus promises, a path which leads to a sense of being alive. That’s the shift we are seeing. And more and more Christians from every corner of the Christian tradition are returning to the ancient Christian practices which lead to life. We are moving from an emphasis on doctrine (however important – and believe me, I think it is ) and returning to an emphasis on practice.

Theologians such as Richard Rohr, and Diana Butler-Bass, and Brian McLaren, and the late Phylis Tickle are reminding us of our ancient practices – that Christianity in the beginning was a “WAY,” a path, a movement.

If you’re wondering what I mean by “practice,” think of it this way. Think of it as exercise. Think of it as training. Brian McLaren says, “Practice may not make perfect, but … it does make currently impossible things possible. The one who tries to run a marathon cannot do it, but the one who trains eventually can.”

Take for example a wonderfully gifted musician. We may experience her music as inspirational, if not transcendent or ecstatic. I suspect there are times when even the musician would agree that something glorious has filled her and her audience – and it is pure gift. Practice alone did not earn that gift. By definition, we cannot earn a gift. But practice made it possible.

Practice can make the gifts of patience, and kindness, and courage, and forgiveness, and inner peace possible. Practice can make the gift of an awareness of God’s presence possible. Practice can make the gift of communion with God and one another possible.

Like “the rush of a violent wind” and with “tongues, as of fire,” the Holy Spirit is moving in and through God”s Church. Wind and Fire.

Wind and Fire: two images of the Holy Spirit – two images used by Brian McLaren when he says: “Perhaps we could say, just as a piece of wood catches fire when placed with other burning logs, and just as an iron rod in some way catches the heat and glow of the fire in which it was plunged, and just as a person who gets too close to a person with a cold catches first the germs and then the symptoms from his companion …

“… then if we are plunged into God’s light and heat long enough, if we stay close enough to God for long enough, close enough to breathe God’s breath, so to speak, then we will catch a case of God. The symptoms of what God has … love, joy, peace, patience, justice, purity, strength, vitality … will be transferred to us, and we will be infected – infected with God.

“And we could say that when we become infected, we also become carriers of health, carriers of healing, carriers of the vitality and light and fire, so it can spread to others and perhaps, cause a full-blown pandemic.” [Brian McLaren]

Talk about a Movement! Staying close enough to God to breathe God’s breath, and become infected with God, and become carriers, spreading to others, causing a full-blown pandemic of God. Breathe on us, breath of God. Breathe on us, breath of God that we might BE the Church in all circumstances; breathe on us breath of God that we might push your heart … more — into the world; breathe on us, breath of God that we might be on fire with the Spirit.

I want you to know that I admire you; I respect you; and I have affection for you. I am grateful to serve – and serve with – Christians who are on fire with the Spirit. God bless you. God bless the Diocese of Fort Worth. And God bless those we are called to serve. Thank you.

+J Scott Mayer

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