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Bishop Provenzano's address to the 151st Diocesan Convention

provenzano-address_sq.jpgHighlights include announcement of new "pro-cathedral" designation in Brooklyn, commitment to plant congregations, enhance clergy continuing education, a commitment to youth formation, and more. The address is available both on video and in text.

Bishop Provenzano's Address to the 151st Convention from Episcopal Diocese of Long Island on Vimeo.


November 11, 2017

The Right Reverend Lawrence C. Provenzano
Bishop of Long Island 

Address to the 151st Diocesan Convention

“Lord Jesus Christ you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your spirit that we, reaching out our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your name.” Amen. 

[Prayer for Mission, BCP. ]

Before I begin the official address, I want to take just a moment to thank all of you for being a part of this convention. Thank you for the sacrifice of time and energy, the sacrifice of leaving family and other obligations to be an active part of this annual convention. 

Please extend the gratitude of the entire diocese to your families, loved ones and co-workers for their part in your being here yesterday and today.  As you are keenly aware, it is only by your generous gift of time, and talent, and the gracious cooperation of the people in your lives that we are able to gather in this place to take council for the life and ministry of our diocese. 

As I have stated every year, it is here in this gathering, that “One Diocese, One MIssion” is renewed and expanded each year to serve the countless people of God committed to our care. 

On behalf of all of us, I thank the staff of the diocese, whose hard work and dedication not only make Convention possible, but who support and enhance the ministries of the diocese throughout the year.

Thank you to Sharon Brown-Veillard, the members of the Committee on Dispatch, and Mother Karen Davis-Lawson, the secretary of convention and all the members of the Diocesan Council. 

I ask you to join me in acknowledging the ministry of our Assistant Bishop, Geralyn Wolf, and our assisting bishops Daniel Allotey & Johncy Itty. I am grateful to the three of them for their generous and enthusiastic support of our ministry in this diocese, and for serving the people of Long Island in various capacities. We are fortunate to have them in our midst.

I would also like to take this opportunity to officially welcome to our diocese and the bishop’s senior staff, the Rev. Canon Patricia Mitchell as Canon for Pastoral Care and the Rev. Canon Claire Woodley as the Canon for Ministry Support. We are so happy to have them both in our midst. 

As many of you are aware, on September 9th of this year, following the liturgy of ordination and reception in the cathedral I suffered a small stroke which has resulted in the permanent loss of sight in my right eye. 

This event, and what I believe led up to the event has caused me, my family, and the staff of the diocese to take pause, and plan for how I will continue to serve as the Diocesan Bishop and how the needs of our people will be met moving forward. Several weeks ago, I informed the Standing Committee of my intention to call a full-time assistant bishop and have requested Bishop Todd Ousley, the Bishop for Pastoral Development at the Church Center to assist us in seeking a full-time assistant bishop. 

After the first of the year, a small committee will be formed consisting of representatives of the four counties and the President of the Standing Committee to help evaluate possible candidate bishops for this position. 

Bishops Wolf, Allotey and Itty are not going anywhere, they will each continue as assisting bishops in the diocese and support our common ministry. 

Yesterday, once again, with the help of our dedicated Racial Justice and Reconciliation Commission, we took the next steps in strengthening and widening the holy work which we began last year.  I am very grateful to the members of the Commission who have worked tirelessly to assist the people of the diocese in this important work. 

With varying success, parishes across Long Island, have engaged the initial work, used the “tool box” in creative ways, and have discovered that the reality of justice & reconciliation work is not for the faint of heart!  We have discover the truth of what we stated last year, that it can’t be a “one-off” program, but rather a long-term commitment by the people of the most diverse diocese in the country to the Mission of the Church as the Catechism states, “to reconcile all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”

Last convention I implored each of us  to roll up our sleeves, take some risks and be the church of Jesus Christ in the midst of God’s people. I am renewing that plea today but further adding the support necessary to engage the work.  To begin with, the  Racial Justice and Reconciliation commission members have offered to help in the process, many of them have been out in parishes all year, listening, engaging in dialogue, learning from you and each other.

All that they have garnered in this process is at your service. Please ask members of the commission to visit your parish community. Regardless of the composition of your parish or local community there is holy work to be done as we learned yesterday. 

Secondly, I have named the Rev. Marie Tatro as my Vicar for Community Justice Ministry. Mother Marie, is full time on the staff of the diocese and is one of the walking (actually biking) expressions of how our diocesan family engages the baptismal promise to “seek and serve Christ in all person” “respecting the dignity of every human being”.

Living the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not just misusing it for political gain as some are want to do, must be the intentional seeking out of injustice, prejudice and abuse.  Mother Marie is our shepherd in this field of ministry, a licensed attorney and a priest, her wisdom and guidance are invaluable to me as bishop and to our work of justice & reconciliation. 

Episcopal Ministries of Long Island is another invaluable tool in our ministry. Besides the fund raising efforts each year which support significant diocesan efforts, Episcopal Ministries provided grants to programs that have resulted in 17,000 meals distributed and 1,800 pounds of fresh organic produce given to people in need this year.

Episcopal Ministries provides the opportunities for each of us to become immersed in the life experience of people beyond the circle of our own lives. Episcopal Ministries has forged partnerships in mission with organization like:

- Rural Migrant Ministries, serving day workers, farm workers and day laborers on the east end of the diocese.

- The North Brooklyn Angels Food Truck, bringing food, education, and health assistance to thousands of individuals in Brooklyn. (The truck is here today. Go out during one of the breaks and see it.)

- LI-CAN, a community-wide coalition across Nassau and Suffolk Counties focused on opioid and heroin addiction and the programs necessary to prevent addiction.

- The Ali Forney Center with cooperation from the city of New York and in partnership with the Trustees of the Estate belonging to the Diocese of Long Island in the expansion of an emergency shelter, and the creation of low cost housing for LGBTQ young adults at the site of St. Andrew’s Astoria.

- Safe Passages, housed in the Mercer School of Theology, helps us to welcome the stranger in our midst by providing legal assistance to immigrant families on Long Island who face the cruel uncertainty of the increasingly volatile immigration situation in our country.

In this past year, 70 parish communities have participated in educational programs, received funding or engaged Episcopal Ministries for consultation.  We can be proud of the work of Episcopal Ministries as it supports our ever increasing focus on justice, reconciliation, mercy, and service to God’s people. Please remember to generously support the Episcopal Ministries in its annual appeal. 

At our last convention I proposed the formation of the North Folk Episcopal Ministries as a collaborative effort of the parishes of Redeemer, Mattituck and Holy Trinity, Greenport. With the enthusiastic support of both parishes and communities - it is a reality and a full-time vicar has been called and in place since early this year. The Rev. Roger Joslin is the vicar, the rectory in Greenport is under renovation and by all accounts two small healthy parishes are supporting the new work of ministry on the North folk.

For two years now, Fr. Gerardo Garcia-Romo has served as the missioner at St. Thomas, Amagansett providing pastoral, sacramental, and practical support to day workers, farm workers and their families.

During this same period he has provided liturgical support to neighboring parishes and traveled to the North Folk to assist as well.  It is clear that Fr. Gerardo has gained the trust and admiration of the people he is called to serve. He has a heart, vision and spirit for this ever growing ministry. 

So today, I am naming him Bishop’s Vicar for Hispanic Ministry for the east end of Suffolk County to aid in a comprehensive coordination of  ministry amongst the Hispanic population and to support the efforts of parishes and missions throughout that section of the diocese.

We need to further expand our ministry to further address the needs of God’s people. 

In Epiphany-tide, sometime in January of this year, I will ask the Diocesan Council to begin the long and faithful task of imagining the planting of new congregations over the next several years. With the ever growing population and the re-development planned for Far Rockaway, replanting a congregation in proximity to our hospital and in service to the more than 300,000 people who live there might be a place to start. 

Other possible locations might be Williamsburg in Brooklyn, or the City-Line section north of Conduit Ave, off Liberty Avenue on the Brooklyn/Queens line in East New York.

Serious conversations and plans are being made to expand and redevelop congregations and church buildings across the diocese. A list of these congregations is available in print and online which is too expansive to list here.

I want to stop here and acknowledge and thank the Rev. Canon Andrew Durbidge, our Diocesan Real Estate manager for his dedicated hard work in stewardship of our properties and development plans. 

For our purposes here today, what is essential for each of us to know is that the Diocese of Long Island is growing in ministry, strengthening our local witness and engaging the changing realities in neighborhoods and communities, examining and reevaluating the traditional use of property, program, and financial resources, and equipping ourselves to better serve God’s people.

In the interest of time, and in an effort to engage each of you in a more deliberate discernment, I ask you to take the time to read and  examine the reports provide you by the Diocesan Corporations that begin in the Pre-Convention Journal on page 24. 

There is important and essential information provided in those reports concerning our ministry and the significant impact of the Mercer School of Theology, Camp DeWolfe, Episcopal Ministries, The Trustees of the Estate Belonging to the Diocese of Long Island, Episcopal Health Services, The Cathedral of the Incarnation. Look there, also, for reports from the Standing Committee, the Diocesan Council and the Committee on Archives.

If you have been examining the ministry plan provided for you in the pre-convention journal for this coming year, you will recognize that it is the largest ministry plan in the history of the diocese. Later in the convention today, we will take up the budget.

But my purpose in bringing this to your attention here in this address is to alert you to the reality that we are expanding ministry, not shrinking. The Diocese of Long Island is Brooklyn, Queens, Nassau and Suffolk. We are not running out of people, or opportunity, or need. 

Sisters and brothers, the people of God need us to be the church.  We need to expand our formation programs, educational offerings, pastoral care and assistance. This is not a time for the church to retreat into self-serving endeavors and internal concerns. 

This fall I began asking the clergy of the diocese to reclaim their role as teachers in the midst of the congregations they serve. We have some of the smartest, well-educated and faithful clergy in the church.I know you would agree!

We need them to teach, and the communities we serve need them to teach.  In the midst of the confusing and combative atmosphere of our present culture, the clergy of the church must return to the teaching ministry that is a part of their calling.

Let me give you an example: In the midst of the countless Bible studies throughout the diocese each week, although it is important to hear what individual people think about a particular piece of scripture and how it might touch them, there must be a point in which the priest, as teacher, instructs the faithful gathered drawing upon the deep well of his or her theological education. 

Otherwise, it is like going to the doctor and rather than having a diagnosis from the physician, one merely shares the symptoms with everyone else in the waiting room and then leaves satisfied with the consensus of opinions from other patients. It might feel good, and be less costly, but in the long run may not be life saving. 

There is too much in our society today that is left to “group think” and as we have now witnessed - false ideas, hurtful rhetoric and sinful attitudes can become normalized and give rise to attitudes that are antithetical to the Gospel and witness of Jesus Christ.  It’s time to teach and form Christians in serous engagement with scripture, with our traditions and the proper, holy use of right reason.

We must engage this work as a holy crusade for the cause of Christ in its purest expression. It is time-maybe well past time- for the church to be the church. And I would dare say for the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Long Island to step past our internal concerns and become a refuge for all the people in our communities.  We can’t hope for reconciliation and justice if we allow ourselves the comfort of cheap grace, and convenient rhetoric.

We must learn better and teach better in order to witness better.

This year, the Mercer School of Theology will provide opportunities for clergy and laity to develop teaching skills, engage in necessary continuing education, and begin to enhance and encourage programs of formation and eduction across the diocese.

By the way, continuing education for parish clergy is an obligation outlined in each Ministry Covenant. Later in the convention, you will here of the work being done by Diocesan Council to enhance clergy continuing eduction.

So if education and formation are essential for the life and ministry of the church we must provide such for our youth and young adults. Canon Myra Garnes and the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry is continuing this work: forming, including, teaching and learning from our young people.

This ministry is ever-growing and this year will include a second full-time youth minister and children’s religious educator in an effort to support the growth in education and formation in parishes of the diocese.

This past summer I had the privilege to once again join our youth and adult chaperones in attending the Episcopal Youth Event in Oklahoma.  Later in the convention you will be treated to a video produced by one of our very own youth delegates to EYE. 

The experience of sharing  time for formation and fellowship with the young people of the church is an enormous gift. Truth be known, I would rather go to EYE than any other gathering of large church bodies.  The reason behind my preference is simple, it is an opportunity to grow leaders in ministry, to hear from them and positively influence their ministry in the church and the world, and have them influence our ministry.

Once every three years EYE gives the church a glimpse of what it looks like to live and learn as a beloved community. There are few agenda, little game playing, and pure, unadulterated christian life in motion. We have lots to learn from our young people.

This too, is why what we are doing at Camp DeWolfe is so essential for our life as a diocese. Read the report in the journal, Matt Tees and the team out at Camp DeWolfe have had another outstanding year of forming and educating our children and offering a prayerful place for all in the diocese.

The Cathedral of the Incarnation is the seat of the bishop of Long Island.  The cathedral sits on a campus, the diocesan center, which is “the heart of the diocese”. It is where we gather, and play, and pray, and work, and are feed and cherished and grow. The heart of the diocese is where we help every part of the body to do the best, provide the most hope and aid, and protect the most vulnerable around us. 

The heart of the diocese, where liturgy is always done well, and is instructive and innovative and prayerful. The heart of the diocese, where learning and formation, and fellowship are encouraged, supported and grown.

I said all those things last convention, and I stand here today repeating them, because one year later the “heart of the diocese”, the diocesan center, the Cathedral of the Incarnation is more a reality then ever before in its recent history. 

I am so excited and so proud as I watch the diocesan center grow as a tool in support of the ministry of the whole diocese. Dean Sniffen has provided a glimpse of this reality in his report to this convention that is exciting, compelling and encouraging for our life together.  

At the conclusion of this convention this afternoon, we will officially commence the 150th anniversary of the Diocese of Long Island. 

Although there will be many special events, programs and liturgies throughout the year, the highlight of the 150th anniversary celebration with take place in proximity to our convention next November.  It will be a four-day celebration, beginning with a day long clergy gathering with the Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Michael Curry on Thursday, November 15.  We will have a one-day convention on Friday, November 16 followed by dinner and dancing. On Saturday, November 17, we will have the 150th Anniversary Mass with the Presiding Bishop preaching, followed by a reception. And then on Sunday, November 18, the Presiding Bishop will preside and preach at our Cathedral.

Later in this convention the Committee on Dispatch and the Co-Chairs of the 150th Anniversary Committee will put into motion all the details necessary for next year’s gathering. 

As some of you may recall, the Diocese of Long Island was brought into being in a special convention gathered in the church building which today is St. Ann and the Holy Trinity in Brooklyn. The diocese was voted into being on November 18, 1868, and on the next day, the rector of that said parish, the Rev. Abram Littlejohn was elected our first bishop.

A little know fact is that Littlejohn had been elected the week previous as bishop of Central New York and had he not yet accepted election.  Further, had he not been elected our first bishop he would have been elected the bishop of Albany that same day. 

Holy Trinity, Brooklyn, now St. Ann and the Holy Trinity is the mother church of the diocese, and served as the pro-cathedral of the diocese until 1885 when the Cathedral of the Incarnation was consecrated. 

In this coming 150th anniversary year it is our intention to designate St. Ann and the Holy Trinity as a pro-cathedral once again. This designation is not a canonical or legal move, it does not make the rector of the parish a dean or transplant the significant and central role of our cathedral.

It is, however, pastoral, spiritual, and historic in nature. As a pro-cathedral, St. Ann and the Hoy Trinity will once again serve as a place from which the bishop of Long Island, and in fact the whole diocese can speak to the city of New York and address the ministry and needs of ever-increasing population of Brooklyn and Queens in which 5 million of the 8.2 million people of the city of New York reside.

It is my intention to celebrate this re-designation during an afternoon liturgy on Sunday, September 16, 2018 at St. Ann and the Hoy Trinity.  It is my sincere hope that we can use this liturgical event as a part of our 150th anniversary celebration and as an occasion for evangelism and witness, creating opportunities for teaching and pastoral care, invitation and welcome for all people. People from throughout the diocese should be invited to come and be a part of this liturgy and engage the rich tradition of our diocesan life and history.   

My sisters and brothers at the conclusion of this liturgy and following the break, the Rev. David Sibley, rector of Christ Church, Manhasset and Chair of the Committee on Canons, will deliver the “response to the bishop’s address”, which has been the privilege of the chair of that committee for decades.

Today, as he does so, a significant transition will quietly take place. For more years than anyone wishes to remember, Fr. Sibley’s predecessor as chair of the canons committee, the Rev. Canon John Madden delivered the response with great reverence, cleaver wit, and faithful expression. 

A priest of this diocese for over fifty years, Canon Madden, a comforting and loving figure amongst the clergy, a faithful servant to the people of the diocese, and a loving friend to this bishop, died this year after a long struggle with cancer. We will all miss John greatly, especially in settings like this. His memory and his faithful prayer will help always to keep us moving forward in mission. 

This entire address, thus far, has been focused on the practical matters of our diocesan life. I want to bring this address to a close by focusing on our interior life.

When I was a boy I served as an acolyte Monday through Friday during the 7:15 mass.  Each day there was a man who came to mass, and following the dismissal would sit in the pew motionless for hours.  Early on, presuming that he might be a homeless man or someone with medical or emotional issues,  the young curate decided to go over to the man and inquired what he was doing everyday, just sitting there.

“Oh”, said the man, gesturing to the crucifix over the altar, “I’m just sitting here looking at Him and He is just looking at me”. I overhear the conversation which has for all these many years shaped and informed my prayer life.

In the midst of the chaos and confusion of tweets, fake news, outrageous claims, and selfish posturing.  In the face of mass shootings, opioid and heroin overdoes, the continued uncertainty of threatening war, deportations, racial conflicts and the political circus that has become the staple of our everyday experience, we must remember who we are, and what we are.

I am asking each of you and the entire diocese, each and every person, to join me in prayer.  Not the kind of prayer in which we add “...our thoughts and prayers are with you...”, but rather, serious prayer, deliberate and sustained prayer. The kind of prayer where you sit and look at him and he looks at you. 

What I propose is this: a covenant to begin on the Feast of Epiphany, January 6, between the people of the diocese and the bishop for one hour of prayer each day, one day of prayer each month, and eight days of prayer each year.

No cell phones, no computers, no TV or no Newspapers. Just each of us and Jesus as a way to help change the tone and tenor of the world that God has given into our care. I ask that parish clergy help to provide guidance and tools to the people of your parish.  Praying is something we know about. Clergy, let’s equip the saints for the building up of the church and our ministry to the world.

I believe, that by God’s grace, our prayer will strengthen each of us, and provide a faithful witness in the face of hollow distractions.

My sisters and brothers, the Gospel is being proclaimed and lived boldly, the sacraments are being administered faithfully, and all God’s people are being invited to experience the life changing, transformative, reconciling love of God in Jesus Christ.

"One Diocese, One Mission" is becoming a reality.  Amen.

>A list of development and redevelopment projects of congregations, church buildings and institutions in 2017 (referenced in Bishop Provenzano's address above).