Sermon delivered by the Rt. Rev. Diane M. Jardine Bruce, Bishop Provisional of West Missouri at the Renewal of Vows and Blessing of Oils service held at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral, Kansas City, Missouri, on Tuesday, April 12, 2022.
If you would like to watch the entire service, visit this page.
I bring you greetings from your diocesan staff – we are here to help you in any way we can. And we mean that.
We mean that, because we continually learn from all of you about the mission and ministry you are carrying out, to the glory of God, from Skidmore to Noel, from Kansas City to Booneville, from West Plains to Trenton. As of this past Sunday, I have been able to visit with 42 of the 48 congregations (yes, I said 48 – I’m including Maryville in there). I have learned so much – and heard a LOT – both earfuls, in fact, about the history of each of these congregations and their relationship with the Bishop, their relationship with the diocesan staff, and their relationship with the clergy, with the deaneries and with other congregations within the diocese. I have six more congregations to visit – and that I will get done by the middle of June.
What have I seen and heard in these 42 visits? I have seen lay leadership in congregations without an on-staff priest or deacon engage in impressive outreach and ministry – caring deeply for each other and for their church building and the community needs around them. I’ve seen creative uses of buildings to stabilize the finances of congregations or to provide a much-needed ministry in the community. I’ve met clergy and laity who are working to meet the needs of the community around them – it doesn’t matter how many people are in the pews on Sunday – these congregations are doing the work of Jesus in their contexts. I’ve heard of heartache and joy, absence and presence, abandonment and engagement, scarcity and abundance, struggle and success. In other words – I’ve heard LIFE in the Diocese of West Missouri. Jesus life – with all its ups and downs. At the heart of each congregation is a deep sense of call – especially of the laity feeling called to be there and care for that community of faith and the community around them.
I have told some of you this, but it is worth repeating – before my interview with the standing committee to discern whether or not I was being called to be your Bishop Provisional, I looked up every congregation’s Facebook and web pages. For those who had detailed information, that was really helpful. For those with little or no information, well, that made it a bit more difficult. I looked to see if there were clergy of color here – that is important to me. I looked to see if there were women in charge of congregations – that is important to me. I looked to see if there was strong lay leadership – that is important to me. I looked to see if there were married gay and lesbian clergy in charge of congregations – that is important to me. Why did I do this? Because coming here – being with you all – had to be a mutual discernment to see if the fit between us was right – if it was of the Spirit — and to discern if I was answering a call or simply taking another job. Taking another job just for that job’s sake is NOT living into who Jesus is calling us to be in ministry – and it is not something I would ever be interested in doing. That’s a recipe for heartbreak. No, this had to be a call of the Spirit – a mutual call – where all parties took it to prayer — so that we could do the work God is giving us to do. That’s Spirit-work, and that’s the work we are called to do.
Being able to be with 42 of the 48 communities of faith here has filled out the picture of who the diocese is for me – and I am beyond grateful to be able to be with you all and do this work – together. This is truly a gem of a diocese, with talented clergy and dedicated laity.
What has struck me most in all the conversations I’ve had and what I’ve learned from listening to all of you and the laity with whom you serve is that trust, truth telling and healthy relationships are at the heart of what makes or breaks a congregation and its members. And by extension – trust, truth telling and healthy relationships are at the heart of what makes or breaks a diocese. Trust, truth telling, and healthy relationships. Sounds a little bit like the work Jesus started and we are called to continue, doesn’t it? At the heart of it all? At the heart of it all, I think, is Love. Or more specifically, the Way of Love as our Presiding Bishop likes to say.
My work – our work – is to build back trust by telling the truth and establishing healthy relationships – and that can only happen when we are willing to engage one another – to be with each other – to show up and be present to care deeply – and to love one another as Christ loves us, and to offer that love to all we meet.
What is the Way of Love for us here in the Diocese of West Missouri? What is our Ointment of Nard that we can pour out over ourselves and our congregations? What is it that the Lord has given us to do right here and right now? You may tire of me talking about this, but I think it is important:
Bishop Tuttle, the then-Bishop Provisional of West Missouri said this:
Yours is a glorious Missionary field. Talk Missions, work Missions, love Missions from the very start. You have twenty-four Parishes and twenty-eight organized Missions. You have forty-one Church buildings and nine Rectories. Of your thirty-five Clergy, twenty -seven are actively working. … So, all around the horizon there is Missionary work for you, and that, too, of a most promising kind. … Kansas City, St. Joseph, Springfield, Sedalia, Carthage, ye that are strong, I beg you uphold the weak. I beseech you as for your life, stand by the Missionary work. … here and now, you are to give tone to your Diocese. You are to start the making of its future history. Be prudent, prayerful, earnest, kindly, unselfish, generous.”
Our convention planning team has come up with a theme for this convention in November: Recalling our roots to grow anew. Bishop Tuttle started our missionary work, and we need to remember that, and grow deeper roots where we find ourselves planted. We can only do that if we are committed to work together. We can only do that if we are willing to speak the truth in love to one another. We will do this work, moving at the speed of trust. You’ll hear more from the convention planning team as we get closer to convention.
Meanwhile, here we are – renewing our vows that we made at our ordinations. By our calling as deacons, priests, and bishops, we are called to be in relationship with one another and with those with whom we are called to serve. We are called to build trust, to tell the truth, and to be in and nurture healthy relationships. We are called to discern, through prayer, where God is calling us and our ministries to go or be. We are called to walk the Way of Love, together – always together. May we, in the process, always be “prudent, prayerful, earnest, kindly, unselfish, generous.”