Did you know that we haven’t always referred to the United States the way we do now? Historian Shelby Foote says: “Before the War between the States, people commonly referred to “the United States are”, in the plural. After the Civil War, people began to refer to “the United States is”, in the singular. The older, plural language was still in use when the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was adopted in 1865: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude … shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
Before the war, states were tied loosely and most believed they could stand alone, choosing to be in union or not. After the war, a new identity emerged; the nation came to believe that our union is “indivisible”. Before the war, people believed their highest loyalty was to their state. After the war, our identity as Americans became foremost in our political self-understanding.
Before the war, the idea that this nation shall provide “liberty and justice for all” was only genuinely true for white males. After the war, majority opinion and new codes of law identified that certain rights are sacred, such as the right to be free from enslavement, the right to vote, and the right to citizenship if you are born here and a path to citizenship if you come here. Certainly these “inalienable rights” were embraced earlier, at the founding of the country, but it took the upheavals of the Civil War to inaugurate change. The War between the States triggered an evolution in that deep-rooted and seemingly immoveable system of privilege, renewing the march to build a nation that lives out its values. From our distant point of view, far removed from the Civil War era, we might not be aware how profound those changes were. Nevertheless, they were very real and shaped who we are and want to become.
Now here’s the parallel.
The theme for this year’s convention asks us to make a similar change. The theme is: “Called in. Sent out. One Ministry in West Missouri”. This theme suggests the question: what it means to be a diocese and to be one ministry?
A diocese is a group of congregations bound in community by a covenant of mutual support. If we are bound together, we must think of ourselves as one — one Church, one effort, one ministry pursuing God’s mission in the land we call West Missouri.
Now, here’s why I started with the history lesson. If we don’t think of ourselves as in this together, as depending on one another, easing one another’s burdens, helping one another make disciples, then we are in our pre-Civil War period. We are 48 “states” without a larger identity or commitment, and we will remain competitors rather than one another’s servants.
My challenge to you is this: be One Ministry in West Missouri. Be one ministry that serves God and God’s children in the 48 mission outposts of the diocese. Avoid the temptation to assume that your needs as more crucial than the needs of your brother parishes and sister congregations.
The lesson of the Civil War is that union works better than disunion. Togetherness works better than selfish individuality. And sharing works better than hoarding. The good news for us is this: we’re doing just that.
In traveling the diocese and visiting with many of you, I sense changes in our common life. We are becoming less siloed and more connected. We are getting to know one another and to enjoy one another’s company, across the virtual barriers we erect around our parochial communities. Communities are reaching out. Big parishes are learning about the challenges and joys of little parishes, and vice versa. Deanery Councils are becoming vehicles whereby best practices and good ideas are shared and supported, where outreach is taken up by partnerships of interested individuals, or by groups of parishes in league, or by whole deaneries. And our Deanery Councils are becoming places where discussions take place about how to work in the field of ripe and plentiful harvest.
When the touch of God’s call is discerned, parishes are calling their best and brightest into Christian service, sharing with those persons what they see God doing in those lives. Leaders to lead the parishes and the diocese are coming forward and being readied for their service locally and also (as always) at more traditional places of higher learning.
Under the excellent leadership of the Diocesan Council, and the consent of this convention, we are moving into a new era of equitable and holy stewardship of God’s resources … meaning of course the resources God has placed into the hands of parishes and, through parishes, into the hands of diocesan leaders whose aim is the collective good of all. We are emphasizing both efficient use of monetary and human resources along with faithful use of these resources. Which is important because efficient and faithful needn’t be in competition.
I sense that we are melding into the body of Christ … as St. Paul envisioned when he penned his famous metaphor in the 12th chapter of First Corinthians:
12 … 12Just as the body is one and has many members … so it is with Christ …
14Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15If the foot would say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16And if the ear would say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” … 24 … God has so arranged the body … 25that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
27Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”
We often associate this metaphor with parishes; think how it applies to a diocese. None of us can say we have no need of another. And we aren’t. I see us growing to appreciative of one another’s gifts, of the work one parish does, or another deanery accomplishes. And this is what it means to be One Ministry in West Missouri. Interestingly, after Paul writes about being many members of one body, the very next thing he writes to the Corinthians is his famous chapter on love, the 13th chapter:
12 … 31…Let me show you a still more excellent way.
13 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8Love never ends. … 13And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
Be one body, with all your many gifts and abilities, because that is the way of love!
And oh! what fruits we will bear when we walk the way of love and unity and covenant and mutual support! We will lift each other up to be vital places, thriving communities, caring for one another, reaching a wounded world, and modeling what the Creator wants to accomplish for us, for all of creation, and for those not yet born.
Our Presiding Bishop reminds us that Jesus came to change the world, and to change us. He came into the nightmare this world can so often be so that it might become again the dream that God intended before the world was ever made or the universe was cast into the void.
Jesus came to start a movement, and we are that movement in West Missouri when we act as one and are One Ministry. When we work together we are a dynamic force advancing the Jesus’ Movement. When we are a diocese with one heart, one soul, and one mind, then, we are at our best.
Now may God be praised. May Jesus’ movement catch the fire of the Holy Spirit and grow. And may the Diocese of West Missouri – in each of its 48 mission outposts – bring the light of the Gospel into the lives of their neighbors and communities.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Recording of Bishop Marty’s Address
Here’s a recording of Bishop Marty’s address in full (26 Minutes).