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Video and Transcript of Bishop Provenzano's Address to the 154th Diocesan Convention



Transcript of Bishop Provenzano's Address to the 154th Convention of the Diocese of Long Island

November 14, 2020

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 forth 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

As I begin this address to the 154th Convention of the diocese, I wish to pause and ask that we breathe deeply, remain still, and pray for all those who have died of illness related to COVID-19, those who have become ill and continue to be hospitalized, those who care for them and serve them and all the victims of this virus—especially our siblings providing care at our St. John’s Hospital—all who have suffered economic loss, due to loss of employment, housing, and other essential services.  For all who have put themselves at risk in the struggle for racial justice, cultural and gender equality, and all those for whom sexual identity, immigration status and political affiliation have put them at risk of repudiation and ridicule.

I come to preside at this annual gathering of the Church in the Diocese of Long Island, convinced more than ever, as I shared with the clergy of the diocese last week, that the notion that “what unites us is far greater than what divides us” is just not true.  The resulting fractures evidenced by the presidential election indicate that the divisions within the fabric of this nation in which we live and serve, are so deep and embedded in the idea of America, that to pretend otherwise is foolishness and unfaithful.

The Church must be faithful, and our foolishness must only be found in the foolishness described by St. Paul in his first letter to the Church in Corinth, “The message of the cross is folly to those who are headed for ruin, but to us who are experiencing salvation, it is the power of God.” I Corinthians 1:18 

We cannot pretend that our citizenship in the Kingdom of God, given to us at baptism, is not at odds with the concepts that are pervasive in so many places in our country. We cannot, as the Church, move forward in proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ, in establishing the Kingdom of God, the creation of Beloved Community, and at the same time adhere to a “rugged individualism” so identified with the misconception of what America is meant to be. 

Just read the Sermon on the Mount, Chapters 5, 6, and 7 in Matthew’s gospel to appreciate the enormous dichotomy between who and what we are called to be as followers of Jesus, and the values and concerns of our present society.  The concepts that built an economy on the stolen lives of slaves, the theft of land from native peoples, and the subjugation of minorities, and women, immigrants and children, and the working class poor, the LGBTQ community can not remain the sins upon which we build a future, or long for a return. The out of hand, disenfranchisement of the needs and concerns of working families for health care, education, and housing must be appreciated and championed as Christian values. As we read in Matthew’s gospel, Luke’s gospel and in Paul’s first Letter to Timothy, ‘...the laborer is worth his/her wage”. 

We must be the church, the voice of Jesus’ teaching in the context of this society. And our teaching and example can not be confused by politics, and secular agenda.

Now with the election settled and a new administration poised to move us in healthy ways, it is time for the people of God, the church to engage in our own work, free of the fear of being unraveled by nationalist policies, and faithful in our efforts to follow Jesus’ teaching proclaimed in the 7th chapter of Matthew’s gospel to remove the log from our own eye, and to once again imagine our providing a foretaste of the heavenly kingdom.

To that end and with that goal, our focus in this year will be Becoming Beloved Community. 

I am inviting you into a time of Reading, Writing and Reckoning to help us move beyond the work of The Racial Justice and Reconciliation Commission, which set the ground work for each of us to stop merely talking and to get on with the work at hand. 

As many of you know, The Rev Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School at Union Seminary led our Clergy Conference this past year.  Her time with us was both convincing and compelling, and if it were not for our having to shift attention due to the pandemic, today I would be giving an initial update on progress, rather than this call to action. 

Dean Douglas called us to initiate conversation in and among white people and between all ethnic and racial groups within the diocese.  Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry simultaneously charged his staff with creating the tools necessary to help us in becoming Beloved Community. We are now furthering our work in this process by providing experiences and learning related to what divides us and what can transform us into building the Kingdom of God, Beloved Community that embodies relational racial healing grounded in discovering and then speaking truth in love that results in action toward justice and actually becoming One Diocese, One Mission. Today I am calling on this diocese to come together for a year of Reading, Writing and Reckoning toward racial justice in Long Island. 

Before COVID-19 shut down our in-person gathering we began an Indaba process in the diocese.  Indaba, a Zulu word which translates into an entire phrase in English, “deep sharing from the heart that asks how things are in your village.” 

Starting with the clergy of the diocese and moving into the laity, Indaba groups are charged with building and deepening relationships that are at the heart of forming Beloved Community.  Beginning this very month, training will be offered to deepen our experience of Indaba. The Indaba process will begin with truth finding. Each group will be asked to unpack the particular history of the present congregation with a focus particularly on the presence of black people in the congregation and neighborhood. We will want to discover in the historical research the reality of our history, even to the point of uncovering from whom the land or property occupied by the present congregation was received. The implications of this process is to base our future on the truth of our past. Here in New York we will have to discover, and reckon with the reality that many of our properties were once the land of native peoples. 

I am asking that we not wait, and unless the pandemic thwarts our effort, that with support and instruction from the staff of the diocese, we begin in January to bring together Indaba groups.  As the process begins I will be calling forth a group of multi-racial/multi-ethnic members of the diocese (both clergy and laity) to craft liturgies and prayer experiences that will become a part of a diocesan pilgrimage trail of important historic sites and events that I will journey with members of the diocese who wish to travel to incorporate and transform what we have learned in the process.  I will also be asking that same group to lend their voice to aiding congregations who wish to transform their worship space to create a more welcoming atmosphere for worship given the congregation and neighborhood we serve.  Moving away from the typical euro-centric images of our Lord and the saints, to provide ethnic and cultural-friendly images to support liturgies and prayer. Our people in everyplace should recognize the face of Jesus in each other and in our places of worship.

As we gather in this convention, I am asking that our decisions and our focus address the needs of all of God’s people, on all sides of the issues, and with deep respect and reverence, that we begin to delineate who we are as the church, from what we have created in the past and imagine ourselves to be in the future. 

The pandemic has quickly transformed our understanding of how church gathers, but it has not changed our understanding of church. 

Let me address a tangent here: I want to celebrate and applaud the great and faithful work of every one of our congregations in adapting meaningful ways of including people in formation, prayer and liturgy by way of the various on-line platforms being used to connect people. I want to applaud the efforts of the Trustees of the Diocese, the staff and board of Episcopal Ministries of Long Island and the Diocesan Communication Office,  for providing almost a quarter of a million dollars and technical assistance to the parishes and missions of the diocese who sough assistance in creating reliable and useful electronic communication during this period of isolation. As we begin to return to limited in-person liturgies, it is my hope that a hybrid experience of in-person and on-line simultaneous worship will remain the norm in the diocese.  Just imagine, an individual at home participating in liturgy via zoom and having the Holy Eucharist deliver from that very liturgy in which they fully participated by a Lay Eucharistic visitor.  The concept of “shut ins’ will be transformed. Let me here give thanks to all the members of our Diocesan Task force who have worked faithfully to provide guidance and direction to the congregations and people of our diocese since the start of this crisis helping to keep us as safe as possible. 

Church is not only what we do on Sundays.  Church is the community of prayer, worship, formation and fellowship that serves a neighborhood, town or village in the name of Jesus Christ. Often, usually, we gather sometime on Sunday but we must be developing meaningful alternatives to Sunday morning as the people we are called to serve re-imagine their lives and involvement in community.  

In late September, the report from the General Convention office on Parochial Reports,  indicated that over the past ten years, almost aligning with my time as bishop, the Diocese of Long Island reported that there are ten thousand less people in attendance on Sundays than had been reported in the prior decade.  Although a bit alarmed by the data, upon further investigation I have found that several important missional realities find no accurate place in these reports. To begin with, over the last ten years, many of our congregations have provided alternative opportunities for worship - addressing the needs of a new generation of christians. Congregations have engaged in fostering community outreach and programs, and our efforts in areas of feeding programs, housing initiatives, shelter programs all invite a level of interaction with the church that do not find a numerical place on the parochial report. 

Now all of this, and the countless other ways we are serving the people of God, does not negate the tremendous opportunity before us.  In Brooklyn, Queens, Nassau and Suffolk there are nearly seven million people - 1/3rd of the total population of the State of New York lives in the Diocese of Long Island.  Regardless of the present restriction placed on us by the COVID-19 pandemic, there is no reason that everyone of our congregations could not at least double in size and number if we allowed ourselves to mount a serious effort to engage our communities in formation, education and prayer.  My invitation to all of you, using common language is this “lets go for it!”  As you have already engage - always put people first. Lets take up the missionary effort to bring Jesus Christ into every opportunity to build up the communities we serve. Give up the old notion of proprietary fear - what is the worst that can happen? Our buildings get used, they get dirty, we move the furniture around, we accommodate the need of the people we hope to reach.  Let me say this loud and clear - as your bishop, I really don’t care about the numbers - let’s just continue to do the holy work God has set before us.  Just like what we are doing now - even in this on-line Convention, we are finding a way forward with lots of grace and enthusiasm. I could not be prouder of our diocese. 

Since March and the commencement of COVID-19 restrictions, our parishes and ministry partners have literally provided hundreds of thousands of meals, to essential workers, families and individuals across the diocese.  And literally delivered several tons of diapers, toilet paper, heath care products, feminine care products and backpackers to aid people across the diocese. I know that if I begin to name congregations, I will miss some and risk not recognizing the tremendous work that has been accomplished.  As many of you know, my office has been collecting data over the past few weeks. It is my intention in a separate communication to publicize that data in celebration of our collective faithfulness and great care for our neighbors, friends and parishioners in need. 

I know we are all tired and a bit wearied by all that this past year has placed upon, but we are called to be a living body of Christ in the midst of God’s people. 

In order to ease some of the burden that is before us and in an effort to support our missionary efforts within the diocese, during the last few months we have created a new corporation within the structure of our diocesan life. Episcopal Real Estate of Long Island has been formed in cooperation with the Trustees of the Estate Belonging to the Diocese of Long Island.  You can read the details in the Convention Journal. But for our purposes today let me say this. 

The Diocese, its parishes, missions and corporation own a tremendous amount of Real Estate. It costs our congregations and institutions a great deal of money to support the maintenance, upkeep and expansion of these buildings both for historic and programatic reasons. Either we can continue to use financial resources to maintain buildings and property, stealing away resources for ministry, or we can use the property in joint ventures that benefit the local community and provide financial resources to support our ministries without being forced to sell our historic buildings.   

Under the banner of One Diocese, One Mission we are choosing to do the latter. In the near future, I believe that this good and holy stewardship of our properties, with the support of this new diocesan corporation will advance the ministry of the diocese for decades to come and help us restore and protect the fabric of our place in the communities we have served for over 153 years. It will also allow us, in the true anglican spirit of mutual responsibility and interdependence in Body of Christ, to bridge resources and ministry within deaneries better equipping us to be the local church working together as One Diocese, One Mission. 

I wish to draw this address to this 154th gathering of the diocese to a close once again with a call to prayer.  When someone like me repeatedly states that “the church must be the church” what I am implying is the Body of Christ, not merely an institution, or an organization, or a history... what I am implying is a people whose lives are connected by prayer and witness to the cause of Jesus Christ in the world.  What I mean is not only connected to what we do, but more importantly how we act and love and pray as a people committed to building the kingdom of God. 

St Ignatius of Antioch and St. Polycarp, and the other early church mothers and fathers would state it this way - we must become living exegesis, explanation of the life of Christ in the world. Learning Christ by deep prayer and study, daily entering into the death and resurrection of Jesus which we encounter in baptism and living in the world as a disciple of Jesus, the Christ. 

All the programs, all the ideas, all the plans will not align the world to the way of Jesus if we are not praying individually and collectively. 

And so I am encouraged by the hundreds of people across the diocese who have begun to participate in contemplative prayer.  It is that prayer - that deep and vulnerable prayer that will motivate our right actions in the midst of this crazy, confusing, but beautiful world.  

So as in years past,  I ask you sisters and brothers to engage an hour of prayer each day, a day of prayer and reflection each month, and eight days of prayerful retreat each year. And to commit to this prayer as we journey into the work and ministry our Lord has called us to embrace in this time and in this place called Long Island.  Together, as the church, we can change the world - or at the very least, show the world a better way.  Amen.