From Bishop David
Last Saturday, Canon Anna and I, gathered with our Sisters and Brothers of the Northern Deanery at St John the Baptist, Lodi. I will say, it was one of the more memorable deanery gatherings I have experienced over the last 5 1/2 years. One of the reasons the morning was so memorable involved hearing the extensive list of exceedingly good work taking place in each and every one of our Faith Communities throughout the Northern Deanery. Thank you, again, to everyone who participated in that event and cheers to St. John’s for your lovely hospitality.
I want to recount one of the things I presented to the gathering as part of My Bishop’s List. I started the conversation by relaying comments I have heard, from time to time, since my arrival in early 2014. The comments have gone something like: “Here we go again, is this another idea the Bishop has concocted in the lab.” “We appear to be chasing the issue of the day, what’s next, I wonder.” “First there was homelessness, then human trafficking, then perhaps incarceration was there somewhere, and now immigration and refugees, where do you go from here.” Now, if not explicit, certainly implicit in those questions is an interpretation thus perception that we are gathering issues like one might collect shells on a seashore. More potentially disconcerting is the possible implied notion that once we go on to the next issue (discover another shell), we leave our previously collected behind. And what I have said in response to these comments is that we will always, as a Gospel People, as participants in the Jesus Movement, listen to the voices of the most marginalized and seemingly invisible people in our midst. And as a result, we will discern how we might more readily and ably walk together. Namely, we will ask the question Jesus so typically asked, “What is it I can do for you.” And we will discern, pray through and continue to figure out how we might actually respond to their response, make a difference, live out our faith. As far as the notion of leaving shells once collected behind, I offered a brief contrast/comparison of the two Dioceses I’ve served as Diocesan Bishop.
I offered this contrast endeavoring to speak into any misinterpretations perhaps implicit, possibly explicit in the aforementioned queries. And so, I said that when a Diocesan-wide-event occurred in Waiapu (My former Diocese [Tour, Revival, Pilgrimage]) I would give a Diocesan Staff Person the responsibility of ensuring that local faith communities were engaging before, during, and after the event. In other words, whether the emphasis was on human trafficking, or immigrants and refugees, whatever the discerned Gospel-Work was, local communities were encouraged to continue their active participation and responses in the lives those who responded to the Jesus question, “What is it we can do for you?” Now in a diocese like my former diocese where we had an expensive bandwidth, that is to say, a large staff hence numerous portfolios, we had the luxury of working with local communities on a day-to-day manner. We actually had three full time “Regional Deans” (equivalent to Archdeacons in the Church of England context). The point is, with relative ease we could provide constant and consistent reminding and encouragement to local Faith Communities to give thanks for and attention to each shell gathered.
Now, here’s the contrast and comparison, and I wish to hasten to insert here, this is not a defense of who we are and how we work, it is simply an explanation. Obviously, we don’t have the bandwidth of my former diocese. As you have heard me recount on occasion, we had a enormous staff in Waiapu. And in San Joaquin, we typically say with a somewhat jovial potentially sardonic tone, we are a staff of 5.2 (Bishop, Canon, Administrator, Chancellor and Treasurer), the .2 is our dog thus the aforementioned tone. Again, the bandwidth contrast/comparison is stark to say the least. And because of our limited bandwidth, we simply cannot engage in the lives of our local Faith Communities in the same manner to ensure that the shells collected continue to receive attention and care.
Let’s be really clear EDSJ, we’re talking about people, not shells (metaphors can be so limiting), better said, we’re talking about ourselves. We must rely and depend on you, our local Faith Communities to continue to provide attention and care to everyone, particularly our people who are most marginalized and potentially invisible. And simply because we hear the voices of others in our midst whose voices were previously unheard, we don’t stop listening to the voices we have already heard. Here’s a concrete example, early after my arrival we started hearing the voices of those who are “umhomed.” And so, we initiated the collection and distribution of yellow bags. Subsequently, we heard the voices of those who are being trafficked. We organized the Tour Against Trafficking which included supporting local non-profits working with survivors of trafficking. Now the hope was and continues to be that simply because we heard the voices of victims of trafficking we wouldn’t stop hearing the voices of the “unhomed.” Those voices continue to be expressed, we must continue to respond. Even though we may not give as much airtime to Human Trafficking as we did in 2015, it doesn’t mean we have stopped that Gospel-work. For instance, local Faith Communities could still engage with the area non-profits who continue to work with survivors.
I pray you get my point. We are relying upon you, our local Faith Communities to continue to Hear, with us, what the Spirit is saying to the Church. We are relying on you, limited bandwidth or not, to ask the question that Jesus asked, to hear the voices, often the cries and yearnings of our people and to respond. And finally, we must not leave a simple shell behind!