A Thank-You to the Diocese
Bishop Skip Adams sent the following letter on January 30 to leaders of each congregation in the diocese. A copy of the letter can be viewed here. The text follows:
Dear People of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina,
This letter comes to you in a spirit of celebration and thanksgiving. The support you continue to manifest for the life and ministry of our Diocese is to be commended. You do so while exercising leadership, remaining connected, and joining in our common mission of God’s liberating Gospel in Christ.
I want you to know that now that we have been able to close the 2018 financial books, the parishes and worshiping communities of the Diocese exceeded what you initially promised to send in support. Diocesan Council and I wish to extend our gratitude for your wonderful response. This is especially important because, understandably, gifts from outside the Diocese have fallen off over the last couple of years.
There is more good news to celebrate. Promised giving for 2019 has for the first time in our re- forming Diocese exceeded $500,000. We are still waiting to hear from a small number of parishes, but it looks like our pledges will be approximately $515,000. Last fall during the Pre-Convention Deanery Meetings and Diocesan Convention, our Diocesan Council did an outstanding job of presenting the 2019 budget and making the case for giving at the requested 10 percent level. I am grateful to report that there have been many positive responses, and more congregations are planning either to meet that goal in 2019, o r make a significant step in that direction.
While financial numbers alone do not indicate all that is happening in a community, they are a substantial outward and visible sign of the commitment of our faith communities and the people of God doing Christ’s work in and through the local mission stations of The Episcopal Church.
We still have many unknowns before us, to be sure. What I do know, however, is that we continue on in faithfulness to God for the work that we have been given to do. Just this morning I was struck once again by the words from the Daily Office in the Suffrages when we say: “In you Lord is our hope; and we shall never hope in vain.”
Blessings and grace to you all in Jesus’ Name,
The Right Reverend Gladstone B. Adams III
The Episcopal Church in South Carolina
Sermon at St. Mark's, Charleston
The Third Sunday After the Epiphany: January 27, 2019
So, why are you on the earth? Why are you here at St. Mark’s Church in Charleston? Why gather in this beautiful place to celebrate this meal of thanksgiving to God we call the Eucharist and confirm and receive three wonderful people of God? Today’s Gospel raises such crucial questions for all of us.
Make no mistake – here in Jesus’ first sermon as recounted by St. Luke, standing in the synagogue in Jesus’ home town, he identifies his reason for being on the planet, why he came to us as a babe in Bethlehem. He quotes from Isaiah 61 and says: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and the recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Wow. That’s quite an agenda. Here we have Jesus’ mission statement. If we are the Body of Christ as St. Paul so clearly indicates in today’s reading from his first letter to the Church in Corinth, then is this not our mission too, our primary reason to exist as a parish church and the primary ministry to which each of us is called through our baptism?
This past week Bonnie I attended a presentation at the Charleston Museum. It was an event to introduce the newly released book Unexampled Courage. It addresses the story of Sergeant Isaac Woodard, a young African-American soldier returning from World War II in 1946, who on the day after his discharge was taken off of a bus and brutally beaten by a Batesburg, South Carolina police chief to the point of blindness. This incident, long buried and untold in our history, served as a wake-up call to Judge Waties Waring of South Carolina as well as President Harry Truman, leading to the desegregation of the military as well as the grounding argument leading to the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision of Brown versus Board of Education.
Sometimes in life, corporately and individually, we get wake-up calls, those times when we are awakened, even jolted out of our slumber to a new perspective. The light is shined on a moment in time exposing a truth, perhaps even confronting us in some significant way to ask of ourselves ultimate questions about purpose and meaning. They can come in many ways. Without getting caught up in any one political perspective, anyone paying attention can see that our country is now, as in other times in history, in the midst of a wake-up call. We are in the midst of a cultural struggle to define once again what we want to be and what we want to become. How does Jesus’ sermon in the synagogue form our answer as disciples?
So too for us in our parishes, we live in odd times in the life of the Church. The split in our life as an Episcopal Church in South Carolina is another kind of wake-up call. We, even as we wait (and wait and wait) for courts to move and make decisions, we get to decide what the quality of our waiting is going to be in faithfulness to Christ and the work we are given by the Spirit to do. Jesus’ sermon is not saying we sit idly by for others to act. There is Gospel work to do to set at liberty one another and the people we are called to serve.
Beyond our immediate particularities, the cultural realities around us are shifting faster than many might have ever imagined. By 2044 we reach a tipping point when minorities will make up the majority of people living in the United States. What will this mean for the mission of the Church? The old days of being church are gone forever, arguably for the good. Many of us are anxious, however, even fearful about our future. Yet we do have a choice. We can choose to live out of fear and hunker down to mere survival mode, or we can see this time as a call from the Holy Spirit to reorient, plant our feet once again deeply in God’s love and hear a call for us to re-awaken to our purpose for being as a community of faith in the discipleship of Jesus. What kind of church do we want to be?
This is the new thing being celebrated in Nehemiah today. Why were they weeping? They had been set free to the joy of God after they realized how far off they had wandered and were introduced afresh to the divine healing of their brokenness as a people. They heard once again the call of God on their life. They had forgotten their purpose for being and when they heard again that God was with them, had not abandoned them and would never abandon them, that God was in their midst and even had joy for them, they were stirred to new faithfulness and a new sense of purpose.
God, in Jesus, is always looking to restore his people, in every age, in every time. It is true today and right here at St. Mark’s Church. It may look different in every age, but what we do know is that God desires to be in relationship with us. Out of that relationship we are to take on God’s agenda of justice for the world which is one where all things are set right in our relationship with God, one another, and the entire creation. Perhaps we can even move from the mere tolerance of diversity to being able to celebrate the diversity with which God has endowed the creation.
If we are the Body of Christ, then our mission must be Jesus’ mission. We must not settle for the status quo. We must be a people of radical hospitality and generosity of spirit, known by a love of God and one another so deep, so significant, that through us everyone will see the beauty of the Way of Jesus. We are to be known by our revulsion at injustice and our committed attention to the most in need of our community. By this we will show our love of God as we identify with Jesus in the ministry he describes as the center of his mission, our mission, on earth. It is why we are here.
The Baptism of Our Lord: January 13, 2019
In just a couple of weeks we have jumped some 30 years in Jesus’ life, from his birth, then his naming on January 1 when we celebrated The Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus (you see it’s not just New Year’s Day), to The Epiphany and the visit of the Magi, to today, his Baptism. We have gone from infant to adult, from his birth to the inauguration of Jesus’ public ministry, leaving out all of those intervening years.
We do have one account of Jesus as a 12 year-old in the temple, but even though we may have curiosity about what kind of child Jesus was—have you ever wondered if Jesus ever gave Mary a hard time—we won’t spend too much time there speculating. The Gospel writers want us to clearly see that Jesus was born, chosen and sent for a purpose. Today’s celebration then, is to help us claim our own baptismal identity and see that we too are born, chosen and sent for a purpose.
Born. We just spent the 12 days of Christmas, from Christmas Day up to The Epiphany, echoing the hymn of the shepherds – “Glory to God in the highest.” I hope we discovered the message that Jesus’ birth was no accident. It was a dramatic unfolding of a tapestry showing forth God’s desire to be in relationship with all of creation. God acts in history. I realize the sweeping theological implications of what I am about to say, but I am going to risk it. Part of what we discover in the birth of the Christ is that in God’s amazing providential love, even under circumstances that may confuse us, no birth is an accident. I am not saying that every birth story unfolds in a manner God wills it, but no birth is an accident. In other words, no person is an accident.
Hear again the words of Isaiah: “…Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine…you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you…Do not fear, for I am with you…everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” This is true for each of us and for all of us. One of our responsibilities as we claim our baptismal identity is to help each person among us discover that she or he was born for a purpose and is of infinite value, loved by God beyond our wildest imaginings. In so doing you will discover that you too were born for a purpose. What might that be?
Chosen. “…when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’” In his baptism Jesus is beloved and God is well pleased, and he hasn’t even yet started his ministry!! God’s favor comes before he does anything.
Too often we go about life trying to earn favor, to prove our worth. Unfortunately we often feel like we have to do that with people, even those closest to us. I am here to tell you, however, that you do not have to do that with God! In baptism we already have God’s favor. God is already pleased. When the water was poured over you at your baptism, God was saying– “you are my child, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We cannot impress God; we cannot earn God’s love; we get no brownie points. The love is given and we are Christ’s own forever. You were chosen for a purpose. What might that be?
Sent. This is Jesus’ inauguration day, the beginning of his public ministry. Even though we sometimes used to do private baptism, except in an emergency it is a contradiction in terms. There is no such thing in Christianity as private believing. Jesus was baptized to be sent. This is where the rubber hits the road, for we are baptized to be sent. It is what the word “apostle” means – “one sent.” Martin comes forward today in Confirmation in order to be sent, to live out his faith in the world as one transformed by the Spirit’s love and hope. Our call, no different than that of Jesus himself, is to give our life, so deeply secure in the embrace of God that we will be resolute about bringing healing, freedom and hope in collaboration with God’s vision of justice for the world God has made.
In the birth of Jesus we might say that God hit the streets. We take our faith and go into the streets of our living. In that sense faith is more a verb than a noun. You will remember that Jesus asked if a city built on a hill can be hidden, or if you would light a lamp and put it under a basket so that no one could see that light. I do not want to stretch this too far, but private baptism can lead to private thinking, which can lead to private believing, which can lead to private Christians, that is, those who may believe but keep it unseen and hidden. You are sent for a purpose. What might that be?
Faithfulness is meant to move us through life so that even when we find ourselves in darkness, and there is plenty of that to go around, we who are the beloved in God’s Spirit will be a source of light to touch and change the world with God’s love, mercy and forgiveness. Each of us must be able and willing to tell our faith story, just why it is we are disciples of Jesus, and why it matters. That’s why we baptize and confirm. Our baptismal identity is to infuse everything we are and everything we do.
Jesus was born, chosen and sent for a purpose. You were born, chosen and sent for a purpose. And especially Martin receiving the bishop’s laying on of hands today, you were born, chosen and are sent for a purpose. The joy of life is in knowing it and living it if you have the courage and will to do so.
The Feast of the Epiphany: January 6, 2019
As we conclude the Christmas season today in our celebration of The Epiphany, sometimes known as The Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, the lessons reveal to us people who could dare to imagine. Imagination is creative. It takes what we know and what we hope for and projects it into a future not yet foreseen. I recall a conversation with a U.S. Episcopal bishop many years ago who was adamantly opposed to the ordination of women. It became apparent that his objection was less theologically based than one might have expected. It was more that he just could not imagine a woman in that role. We cannot do what we cannot imagine.
Isaiah, St. Paul, the Magi – they were all imaginers to the full. They could see the present for what it was, along with the challenges with which they were faced. Yet they could also see the future in grace-filled visions. They knew God was with them and that God already held the future. That was the key.
We too often shrink from creative solutions to things. Being cautious we tend to merely tinker with what we already know. “Going boldly where no one has gone before” works on Star Trek, but going exactly where others have gone before is the pattern for most of us. Now that’s not always wrong, but our Scriptures call us to faithful risk-taking. In times of anxiety, especially when the future is filled with unknowns, we often find it a time to entrench, to batten down the hatches, to circle the wagons – choose your favorite metaphor – when in fact the moment is crying for a new boldness and sense of adventure. Now is such a time for us, for our Diocese and entire Episcopal Church, and gosh yes, for our country.
In the faith story we inherit, the people of God put their imagination in service to God. Someone has said that prayer is precisely that – imagining with God! Through this prayerful imagination God speaks, makes his will known in the community of the faithful, and a revelation comes. A messenger is heard. What if Mary, Jesus’ mother, had played it safe? What if the Wise Men had said gee, the journey is just too long and too tough? What if St. Paul had decided to stay home and ignore the voice that called him into an entire new way of being faithful?
In today’s reading, Isaiah imagines a whole new future for Jerusalem and its people. The Wise Men found themselves compelled by astrological forecasts of all things, and followed a star. They risked a long journey in search of a King whose significance was beyond even their own understanding. Paul imagines a grand plan of God revealed in Christ to bring all people to himself, unified in the person of Jesus. He took risks and resistances were overcome.
I wonder if we remember the amazing words of the baptism liturgy when we pray for the one just baptized: “Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.” God works through our imaginations! It is one of the gifts of our baptism for which we pray. It is God’s hope for Harriet being confirmed today. What we cannot imagine we cannot do.
If we are to carry out God’s desire for our life individually and even corporately as a parish church, we must hook our star to the star of Christ. Being fearful is easy and the pundits around us are constantly trying to manipulate us with fear tactics. If we give in and allow our anxiety to rise above what is reasonable and even creative, then we tend to move to the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy to mere survival. But God is about creativity and life. Whatever God is calling forth from you, the people of God at Good Shepherd, you have an opportunity to imagine what that is and even, if you are so bold, to imagine a whole new future for yourself. This kind of trust, faith if you will, is not built on certainties. It is built on the promise of God that is the core ingredient of hope.
So when we pray for someone who is sick, we are to imagine him or her well. If a married couple cannot ever imagine the possibility of joy in their relationship, then they probably will not experience it. If a congregation cannot imagine an invigorated and committed people with empowered mission being offered in the Spirit, vigorous life-giving worship that captures people’s hearts, than they will never attain it. If a country cannot imagine a Congress that can actually get along and get something done that is constructive for the good of all, then it will not occur. If the world cannot imagine peace, it will not be realized.
I recently read of a man who had lost his job and was down on his luck in every phase of his life. He was in danger of losing the things he loved the most and could have given up and thrown in the towel. But instead of that, he went around to people on the street, collected food stamps and got a group of folks together to feed one another and the homeless of his town. He cooked a turkey on the street in an old file cabinet drawer. To do such a thing required his imagination and a bold desire of the will. We have a God who throughout Scripture proclaims to ancient peoples and to us, do not be afraid. Do not be anxious. To God they are diseases of the soul when we allow them to control us.
Today is Epiphany time. It is a time when our hopes and dreams can be revealed. We begin by bringing our gifts, our very selves, to the manger, even this altar, with all we have to give. In this act we give ourselves to Christ himself and ask to be renewed in the power of the Spirit. Imagine yourself faithful. Imagine yourself whole and full of love. Imagine God at work in and through you. Imagine God calling you, yes you, and say in response, “Yes God, we will imagine a new world with you.”
Bishop Skip Adams
The Right Reverend Gladstone B. Adams III was elected and invested as our Bishop on September 10, 2016. Read more about him here.