Bishop Taylor, left, and Bishop vonRosenberg talk with the clergy on the second day of the annual Clergy Conference.
Diocesan Clergy Conference 2014
September 2-3 at Bishop Gadsden Episcopal retirement community
About 40 priests and deacons of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina participated in a two-day conference with the Bishop of Western North Carolina as they gathered at the Bishop Gadsden Episcopal retirement community on James Island on September 2-3 for the annual Diocesan Clergy Conference.
The Right Reverend G. Porter Taylor, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina, presented sessions on the theme of “Growing into Christ: In the Light; in the Darkness; in Community." The conference also allowed time for the clergy to enjoy fellowship and meals, receive updates and engage in discussion with their Bishop, the Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg.
In his sermon during the opening Eucharist in Bishop Gadsden’s Chapel, Bishop Taylor said that people often ask him what his job is, and he doesn’t know what to say. “Sometimes,” he said, “We get in our little church bubble and we forget how weird we are to the world.” In answering the question, sometimes he might describe his duties, like official visits and meetings and ordinations.
But other times, if a person is asking a real question, “I tell them what I think is the truth: My job is the same as yours – to learn to love as our Lord Jesus Christ loves. And it’s hard. We live in an age where that’s become more and more countercultural.”
He focused on the fourth chapter of Ephesians, calling it “a chapter for our time.” “ Loving one another is hard, and it’s always about communion, it’s about connectedness, and in the end it’s about salvation,” he said.
The chapter speaks of equipping the saints for the work of the ministry, and Bishop Taylor likened equipping to the word “align,” as when a broken bone has to be set: “to become in line, in sync, and equipped to let God’s love flow through you smoothly.” Like setting a broken bone, there’s pain involved. “Growing is hard, equipping is traumatic, but that growth leads us to widen our hearts,” he said.
Bishop Taylor recalled the story of Ruby Bridges, who was 6 years old when she became the first black student at an all-white New Orleans elementary school, and had to be escorted by federal marshals through a crowd that screamed at her and spit on her.
“Let’s be honest,” Bishop Taylor said. “There’s always a cost to growth.” Ruby’s father lost his job, the local grocery told the family to shop somewhere else, and her grandparents in Mississippi were forced off the land they had farmed for 25 years. And yet, one day as Ruby made the trip to school through the hostile crowd, someone saw her moving her lips – her words couldn’t be heard over the screaming. Later, someone asked what she was doing. “I forgot to say my prayers before leaving home.” She said was praying for the people screaming at her on the sidewalk. Why? Ruby replied: “Don’t you think they need our prayers?”
“My brothers and sisters, our Lord calls us to get aligned, become equipped, so we will grow up into Christ – not for our sake, but for the world’s sake,” Bishop Taylor said.
In his presentations on Tuesday and continuing on Wednesday, Bishop Taylor shared reflections and poetry from a variety of writers, and encouraged discussions in small groups so the clergy could share their own stories.
“The well of God’s grace and mercy and love is always there for us to tap into, if we just remember, if we just pay attention, if we just take the time,” he said.
Many of the clergy attending the conference expressed feelings of hope and blessing, that the diocese has “turned the corner” and that people are able to return to proclaiming the Gospel without being preoccupied by sideline issues. Several said that in past years, they had felt distanced from other clergy and even marginalized; now, they spoke of feeling a sense of joy at being with one another, of being able to “be who we are.”
“Apart from deep sense of grief that is still present that so many of our brothers and sisters don’t want to be with us anymore, there’s also the knowledge that deep joy can only be possible because of that deep pain,” said Archdeacon Calhoun Walpole. “There’s a real sense of being alive, creativity, a sense of the eternal – that every day, every moment, every act of ministry is a gift that has been given to us.”
“To live in that realization is nothing less than the grace of God and a profound gift that we’ve all be given, to be living and ministering during such a time,” she said.
Bishop Taylor urged the clergy to find ways to tell their story to the wider church. “I really think you have a very important treasure to share.”
Bishop Taylor shared quotations from several people, including this from Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ.” And from Thomas Merton: “As long as we are on earth, the love that unites us will bring us suffering by our very contact with one another, because this love is the resetting of a Body of broken bones.”
“You can’t absolve yourself alone, share the peace alone, share the sacrament alone. It’s always a community and therefore it’s always rubbing up against one another,” Bishop Taylor said. “In a culture that wants measureable results, like average Sunday attendance numbers, it’s important to remember that the connections are what’s important. We may not see the harvest, Bishop Taylor said, but that doesn’t mean the growth isn’t happening.
“Church is always a contact sport. What we have to do is have the grace, and the faith, – and the patience, frankly – to get through that.’
The conference concluded on Wednesday with a time for information, updates, questions and answers with Bishop vonRosenberg; from the Chancellor of the diocese, Tom Tisdale; and from diocesan staff members Lauren Kinard, Andrea McKellar and Holly Behre.
Bishop vonRosenberg and the clergy and staff expressed gratitude to Bishop Gadsden for hosting the event for a second year. Executive Director Bill Trawick welcomed the group with a brief presentation a video on Bishop Gadsden's outreach through its Residence Assistance Program.
"Growing into Christ:
In the Light;
in the Darkness;
The Rt. Rev. G. Porter Taylor
Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina
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