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From the Bishop
February 26, 2022

"Encourage One Another and Build Each Other Up:" the Bishop's Address

The Rt. Rev. David Reed addresses the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas February 26, during Council 2022.

Welcome & Thank You's

Good morning and welcome. Muy buenos dias y bienvenidos a todos.

I’m glad to be here, and I’m glad you are there. Of course, how much better it would be if here and there were in the same place today.

As I did during the Pre-Council meetings, I offer thanks, from all of us, to St. Mark’s Church, San Antonio, for their energy and creativity, and their willingness to plan and host Council two years in a row, knowing as they planned, that it might not happen. (And what a beautiful gift to the Lord—and to us—was their offering of Evensong yesterday.) I also give thanks to and for your diocesan staff who have continued to work hard and faithfully--not only to shift on short notice from in-person to on-line, but in their day-in-and-day-out support for the churches, clergy and people of our Diocese. They are a gift and a treasure to me, and they embody our Council theme, “Encourage one another and build one another up.”

Thanks also to Assistant Bishop Rayford High, who’s now completed his first year with this rodeo, or circus. He is a wise, good-humored and patient friend and colleague, and I’m grateful for his partnership and for his care of the congregations of the Diocese. He and Ann have made West Texas their home; and they love what they have found, and they love you.

I want to commend and thank all of you for being here. We certainly can’t take showing up for granted these days, particularly in these perpetually unprecedented unprecedentedness times so fraught with fraughtness. I’m playing with overused words, but there is something in the duration and depth of the pandemic that has wearied us and ground us down to where everything often seems messed up, adding daily to the anxiety and stacking more upon an already heavy load. Like a red sock washed in a load of whites, COVID discolors everything. Little annoyances become major crises; minor inconveniences feel like personal attacks; mild disagreements escalate into civil war.

And that’s just in church meetings.

On my Sunday visits, the most common question I get is, “How are our other churches doing?” The answer is, “Good…Okay…Not so good.” That’s a fair summary of our 87 congregations as a whole, but it could also be a fair description of EACH of our churches. Depending on what part of your own church’s life you choose to focus on, you’ll possibly see a congregation that is doing well…maybe very well…AND holding on and doing okay…AND barely hanging in there and not doing so well. The answer likely depends on whether we’re talking about Sunday attendance, pledging and giving, visitors and newcomers, participation in Bible studies and Sunday School, outreach into the community, or restarting ministries.

The second-most asked question I get is, “Will our people ever start coming back to church?” With all my bishoply wisdom I usually say, “I don’t know.” A longer answer is, “I don’t know. Have you asked them? But if our people—those who are already members—don’t come back, there are about 65% of the people in your community who don’t have a church home anywhere and a good number of them might appreciate an invitation. You could try that.”

St. Mark’s Church, San Antonio

We’ve had much to worry about during the past two years—in our homes and families, in our churches, in our communities and in our own lives. But only one of our churches has had to wrestle with all the COVID issues AND a million pounds of metal scaffolding falling on their roof, 5,000 gallons of water pouring through their ceiling, and $14.5 million of damage. And in that time, also tried to host Council twice.

That would be St. Mark’s in downtown San Antonio, where on September 19, 2019, a windstorm blew through at night, peeled tons and tons of scaffolding off a building across the street, and dropped it on top of the building where offices, classrooms, kitchen and choir rooms are. No one was injured, though the choir had finished rehearsing and gone home just a little while before, which made choral Evensong last night even more beautiful and poignant.

The clergy and laity of St. Mark’s provide us with a modern parable, a bit of recent history, that illustrates the indispensable value of encouraging and building each other up. Within days, the people of St. Mark’s were gathering to worship, office space had been found and ministries were re-engaged. The message that has been preached, written and spoken, from then till now, is that the Church, before it’s about buildings, is about people and community. We know that, right? We know that, but it’s so easy—until crisis comes—to forget, to pour our time, money, energy and allegiance into lesser things. The lesson I carry from our sisters and brothers at St. Mark’s is that, even if the pandemic managed to collapse all of our beautiful buildings and lay waste to our beautiful grounds, the Church of Jesus Christ would still stand, and Christians would continue to do the things that Jesus has always called his followers to do.

In extraordinarily difficult times, these clergy and people have persevered in doing the “ordinary stuff” of Christian life. Like you have all over the Diocese. They have focused and refocused and remembered the things that truly matter for Kingdom people. Like you have all over the Diocese. They have worked hard and stubbornly, as you have, to keep congregational life going and make it work—often in new ways—just as you have. But in it all, it has been not our cleverness or winsome personalities or stunning good looks that have helped us stand and prevail…it is not our own power that has brought us this far, but the power of God working in us to regather, rebuild, renew and reconnect. The call to us to “encourage one another and build each other up” is at least as old as First Thessalonians, probably the oldest writing in the New Testament. But the words are as fresh as today, and Word of God kindles fire anew when it is embedded in receptive hearts and embodied in the lives of Jesus’ followers. Like you.

Throughout its long history, St. Mark’s has offered much to the whole Diocese, sharing from its abundance and strength. But from this chapter of limitation and struggle, St. Mark’s will have so much to show us of life and hope and newness arising out of the wreckage. Let their story be both parable and mirror for you and your church.

I have one more history lesson and true parable, this time from a far different time and place.

St. Francis of Assisi

A stranger sat in church on the Feast of St. Matthias, which was two days ago on our calendar. But this happened in the year 1208. Only 20 years old, he was a combat veteran and former POW, captured in a border war and held captive for a year. That day, he was sick, wandering and deeply troubled. The Gospel read was from Matthew 10: “Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and say, ‘The kingdom of heaven is near. Take no money, no backpack or extra coat or extra shoes, no walking stick…” The words struck the young man deeply, and crying out, “That’s what I want!” he took off his coat and shoes and walked out to give away all he had to the poor. This was Giovanni Bernadone, but we know him as Francis of Assisi.

Not long after that, Francis sat praying in the ruins of a church near Assisi. A wrecked crucifix hung over the altar, and Francis heard a voice coming from that cross, saying three times: “Rebuild my house. You see it’s falling down.”

Francis returned home and went to work for his father, a wealthy textile merchant. Francis was a good salesman and sold a lot of cloth. His father was delighted that his troubled son seemed to have come to his senses…until Francis gave all the money from the sales—and his father’s best horse—to help rebuild that old church. But then, during the reconstruction, another revelation came, and Francis was shown that the “house” Christ wanted him to rebuild wasn’t a building, but the Church, the Body of Christ, which had fallen into a long season of decline and disillusionment, in the midst of a dark and uncertain world. It was God’s children who needed to be rebuilt. So, converted again and turned in the right direction, Francis began his life’s work of healing, repairing and building up people.

I’ve been in plenty of churches lately where you have wisely taken advantage of the forced down-time of the pandemic and tackled everything from minor repairs to repainting to major construction. I call that good stewardship. But the call of our Lord— “Rebuild my house!”—tells us that it’s too light a thing to fix the buildings and think we’re done. If we regard that work faithfully, we might see it as the Spirit’s way of saying, “Company’s coming. Get things straightened up around here.” “Rebuild my house” directs us toward people—whether inside or outside the Church—who are caught in the wreckage of our times, in need of healing and care for their souls. Who will the Lord call upon and send, if not us?

I’ve been in plenty of churches lately where you have wisely taken advantage of the forced down-time of the pandemic and tackled everything from minor repairs to repainting to major construction. I call that good stewardship. But the call of our Lord— “Rebuild my house!”—tells us that it’s too light a thing to fix the buildings and think we’re done. If we regard that work faithfully, we might see it as the Spirit’s way of saying, “Company’s coming. Get things straightened up around here.” “Rebuild my house” directs us toward people—whether inside or outside the Church—who are caught in the wreckage of our times, in need of healing and care for their souls. Who will the Lord call upon and send, if not us?

Francis embarked on this new, holy work of restoration and reconstruction when he was about the same age as the summer staff we hire to work at our camps. What good could he possibly do? He didn’t exactly have a glowing resume, and his father had hauled him into court for stealing his money and his horse. But Francis knew that he himself was one of Jesus’ reclamation projects, and he took this grace, mercy and love that he had received and gave it freely and joyfully away, striving to rebuild the Church, to rebuild human lives.

The Persistence of Hope and Bursts of Light

I could go on and on, and frequently do. I could tell 87 more stories—recount 87 more tales of very recent church history, one for each of your churches scattered across this Diocese. They would all illustrate something of the Church’s vocation, our calling, to persist in hope. Not wishful thinking, or rose-colored, silver-lined positivity, or exaggerated self-confidence. But hope. Unashamed, unabashed, unbeatable—because it isn’t something we conjure up from within, gritting our teeth and faking it till we make it. We receive it from outside ourselves in the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Buried with Christ in his death and raised with him in resurrection, our hope is set in him. Because Christ has conquered death, the wreckage in the wake of COVID, the dislocation and disorientation so many of us are feeling in our churches, will not be the last things to be said about us. They do not define us, nor set the limits on what God will do to restore and reconstruct us.

Patti was telling me about a piece of artwork she wants to create. It came to her after a recent difficult weekend where she sat for several hours with a dear friend dying of cancer and we were at the funeral of two people very special to us. She said, “In my mind the weekend was gray…just gray everywhere. So much that was hard and sad. But there were also bursts of light all through that time. Meals with family and clergy and spouses. Laughter and stories with friends we don’t see often. It was light bursting through the gray.”

That is the persistence of hope, and the vocation we share. We are given the Good News of Jesus to feast on so that we offer light and life to others in a gray season of uncertainty, dislocation and deconstruction. Your church is a vessel of Gospel hope and bursts of light, and I am witness to the stories of resurrection hope, resistance to despair, and defiant joy that I find in your churches. Sunday by Sunday, weekday by weekday, I see bursts of light in a season of a lot of gray. That’s what I hope God is bringing to you throughout Council. I hope you’re watching for light busting loose in your own churches, and are ready to celebrate it, point it out and gladly tell others who are hungry for good news and signs of life.

Church Life in COVID Times

During 2021, the churches in West Texas continued learning, adapting and adjusting to COVID realities, and almost all of our churches were open for regular in-person worship throughout the year. Most have kept an on-line presence, though on-line participation seems to have shrunk for many of you. Even with the rise in the Omicron variant, your churches have maintained a more normal schedule of activities and ministries, though many saw need to return temporarily to stricter protocols. But vaccines work, vaccines work, vaccines and boosters work even better. With vaccines on the horizon for our youngest children, hope is growing that this latest wave is flattening and we are moving from epidemic to endemic. With that comes growing confidence that we are learning to live with it. Week by week, we watch and wait, hoping that more of our church members who have been hesitant about returning to the worship, fellowship and ministry of their church will begin again to do so.

But I’m pretty sure few of us will get back closer to pre-pandemic church life by wishing it were so. We shouldn’t forget the challenges we were facing long before the coronavirus appeared. We have work to do. The list of chores Jesus gives can be described in lots of ways, but his commission remains the basic call and mission of the Church, of your church: to gather and worship, to go out, baptize and make disciples. Let’s paraphrase it today as: “Encourage one another and build each other up, as indeed you are doing.”

Yes, we are all worn out, distracted, frazzled and a little crazier than usual because of the last two-plus years. Those of us who have returned to regular worship and participation in the life of our churches need to recognize and examine our need for others—as human beings and as Christian disciples. We need to recognize--and celebrate—the gift of community the Spirit births and sustains—and to see that each of us is empowered to be a means of encouragement to others. And not just to encourage and build up those who sit conveniently close to us in church, but to carry that gift outward, to push that encouragement—in fact to push all that matters to us about being the church—outside to those who have not come back, to those who have never been in the first place. Our baptismal identity and call is always to be the Church—the members of Christ’s Body—consciously and joyfully—whether in the building or away.

“Will people come back?” There’s both worry and longing in that question. Indeed, we are so aware of those who haven’t returned, and we miss them. However, the truth is that, every Sunday, since long before COVID, people wake up and choose whether or not to come back to church. There’s almost no cultural pressure to be in church; just the opposite in fact. Our clergy don’t bench acolytes and lectors if they don’t show up on Sunday, but your kids will certainly pay a price if they skip that Sunday morning soccer or select softball tournament. As lines continue to blur between work and home, people can just keep working on Sundays. Or they can jump on-line and listen to the Presiding Bishop’s sermon from the National Cathedral and who can compete with that?

A better question than “Will they come back?” might be, “What are we inviting people to come back to, and why does it matter?” I know—that’s two questions. But asking them shifts us from speculation and worry about what we can’t control—what others will choose to do—to a consideration of who we are as Church, and what we, in the Name of Christ and in the power of the Spirit, offer. Examining and talking with one another about why this church life matters may lead us to a renewed and deeper connection, as well as give us actual words to actually talk to actual people who you’re missing, and those you haven’t met yet.

The truth is, we can’t know if people long out of the habit of participating in your church’s life and worship will come back. The more compelling truth is that there are so many people you don’t know—and many whom you do know—who need the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ as much as you do. And it is within our power—it is our holy calling and privilege to go out…to get outside ourselves…to go out in the Name of Christ…rejoicing in the power of the Spirit…to love and serve the Lord.

COVID has certainly done a number on us personally, as well as on society, our communities and our churches. If two years of pandemic hasn’t knocked us to our knees, it’s at least knocked us off stride and damaged our self-confidence, distracting us and further fragmenting us. Spiritual and emotional weariness have made it so hard to find our footing.

But the greatest threat to the Church is not COVID. That which most threatens the life and mission of the Church has rarely come from outside the Church. Internal threats take different form from place to place, but I think our common enemy—an ancient one that has grown stronger—is fear. Fear is usually fueled by what hasn’t happened yet, anxiety over the “what-ifs.” Fear pushes us to worry about the future, rather than to live fully in the present. Not all fear is bad, of course. It can keep us alive. But it can also keep us from living. It turns us away from the abundant life Christ offers, and leads us to withdraw, to circle the wagons and build walls, to retreat and to become stingy and cheap, arguing over what we lack rather than celebrating what we have. Churches whose common language contains more fear than hope, whose actions habitually reflect scarcity rather than abundance, who rarely celebrate anything, have set a course for decline that is a greater threat to the Body than COVID.

A significant part of encouraging one another and building each other up in the months to come will be sifting through the disarray and disconnection, and rediscovering what is precious, true and enduring. What we will find, I believe, is that the basic, everyday things of the church we often take for granted do endure, and do carry power still to restore, regather, heal, comfort…to confront, challenge, convert and transform. This should not surprise a people whose life is formed by, and around, water, bread, wine, a book, a table, a community. We will find our footing, and a renewed confidence—making our boast, as St. Paul says, not of ourselves, but of Christ—when we begin to trust and understand that all the "ordinary" things we do as Church people are the arena for the Spirit’s extraordinary work of reclaiming, reconciling, uniting, inspiring and sending. It is the Spirit that can lead us to remember that hope endures, love abides, and Easter is real. This is what Jesus wants us to invite people into, or welcome them back into.

We Will Continue

The life of our churches, like life in general, is littered with the disappointments, delays and frustrations of the past two years. Among them within the Diocese are the twice-delayed workshops planned for our seven convocations.

Originating in Executive Board conversations and developed by our seven convocational Deans, the workshops are called “We Will Continue,” echoing the Q & A exchange within our Baptismal Covenant. You know the questions: “Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?” “Will you persevere in resisting evil, and whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?” “Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?”  “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?” “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?”  They recall us to the foundations of Christian life and believing, and you know the answer, “I will, with God’s help.”          

So, in this season, the question is, “We will continue…but how?” And the answer to “How?”  I think, has much to do with the questions that are asked shortly before the questions I just listed. The questions at baptism are summarized at confirmation: “Do you reaffirm your renunciation of evil? ...Do you renew your commitment to Christ?” Bishop High and I know how you respond in church—the answers are given in the Prayer Book, and we count on y’all to answer loudly. But our response to those questions away from worship, the ways we embody the answers out in our daily lives, how we seek to align our lives with them, has much to say about how we will continue as followers of Jesus. Is our response Eeyore-like? “Oh, well…Might as well continue…” Or is it Tigger-like? “Woo-hoo! We are gonna continue!!”

This year, the plan is to invite you, and all the people of West Texas, to the “We Will Continue” workshops, so that we might consider our life together as the Church, reflecting on basic and persistent questions that truly encourage and build us up in our commitment to Christ. We will gather to encourage and build each other up, as you are already doing. We will learn from each other as the Spirit moves among us. We will continue to persist in hope, and await the day when we are able to be together as a diocesan family, in person, encouraging one another in the building up of the Church.

Bursts of Light: Life and Ministry in West Texas

Again, I hope that you’ve seen bursts of light in the various reports presented yesterday, and will see more in the reports today. Everyone on the diocesan staff could join me and talk into the night about the signs of life—signs of God’s renewal and rebuilding—we are seeing all over the Diocese. I won’t repeat what you’ve already heard, but will hope that it all stirs something within you that you’ll want to share with the people of your congregation.

In 2020, many of our churches were closed for several months, limiting bishops’ visitations—along with confirmations and receptions. In 2021, Bishop High and I were able to resume a more normal round of Sunday visits, even though churches faced obvious obstacles to pulling together confirmation classes, whether youth or adult.

For the record, in the year now past, I made 39 episcopal visitations, confirming and receiving 147 souls. Confirmations and receptions by Bishop High, Bishop Jim Folts and Bishop Dena Harrison bring that total to 259. That’s not close to what we could report in pre-COVID years, but it’s definitely not evidence of death or stagnation.  I also ordained 5 new clergy and installed 4 new rectors. I consecrated one former restaurant and bar as St. Nicholas Church; dedicated a truly awesome science and technology classroom at the Day School in Brownsville; served 709 Circle Pizzas to campers at Camp Capers; forgot to unmute on 666 Zoom calls, shook the hands of 81 TMI graduating seniors, and survived, with you, one blizzard.

Every one of those Sunday visits—I’m not exaggerating or being polite—every one of them, and every person participating in the sacraments and in those other celebrations in and out of church, would be counted in the parochial report category, “Bursts of Light,” if we had that category, which we should.

Diocesan Ministries

The Diocese is our 87 churches together, and I want to be clear that when I talk about “diocesan ministries,” I’m including you and your church, and that there is an interrelatedness among all of it, so that “diocesan ministries” support the flourishing of our churches, and our churches give life and purpose to our diocesan ministries.

In this Council, you have heard, or will hear, from most of the ministries organized and overseen by diocesan staff and clergy and laity. Their reports share a common thread acknowledging that nothing came easy in 2021, and it took a lot of heavy lifting to gather people to start, or restart, ministries. Capturing and holding the attention of individuals in crisis-management mode has been hard. Calling for commitment and energy from weary people has been hard, too. Few things came together as fully as we had hoped at the beginning of the year. I take responsibility for thinking wrongly, before the Delta variant, that we would be much less entangled in COVID this past year.          

And yet, another common thread is that, despite many setbacks and frustrations, faithful ministry in the Name of Jesus has happened. Our people have found creative ways to carry on, continuing to move forward in their ministry for the sake of the Gospel and the building up of the Kingdom. And there is a third thread woven into these reports, too: “You are invited. You are needed. Your gifts can make a difference. Join us.”

Here are some brief thoughts on some of these ministries.

Latino Ministries

When I asked Margarita Mejia and Raymond Reynosa to co-chair a renewed Latino Ministries Committee, I didn’t hand them a roadmap or a GPS. They bravely said “yes” anyway. Meeting together was, of course, not possible at first, and later, still difficult. But their Zoom meetings were filled with ideas, so much so, that when we met in person last month, we were still trying to settle on which to develop. One you have gotten a glimpse of—their partnership with the Historical Commission to gather cuentos—stories of Latino Episcopalians from around the Diocese.

For me, part of the value of the story-telling project is that it reminds us that we are not “inventing” or even “starting” Latino ministries. That would be wrong and arrogant. The goal is not to create a separate ministry, but to celebrate the many, many faithful people already within the Church in West Texas, and to raise up and celebrate their gifts for leadership and service in the Name of Jesus. There definitely is not a “one-size-fits-all” plan that would be effective, or even faithful, across our many congregations and communities. We do not have a “diocesan program”—we have people committed to offering their experience and gifts. The Committee members are gathering, and developing, resources to offer to those churches in our Diocese that want to find more effective ways to extend a clear bienvenido to their neighbors and to invite them to walk alongside on the Way of Jesus.

They continue to gather information about initiatives occurring in your churches already, and will share that compiled information—and other resources—with everyone. They look forward to hearing from you.

Camps and Conferences

As you heard from Rob Watson, our three campsites are preparing for a full re-opening this summer, and Camp Capers and the Mustang Island Conference Center are very busy already with adult and family groups, retreats, parish weekends, school groups, and more. After a long season of pandemic-pinched life, our need to be outside for the health of body, mind and soul is clearer than ever. Children, youth and adults all need places to roam, sit and breathe freely, to find and be found by God. There are no better places than our three camps.

This year brings the added excitement of the 75th Anniversary of Camp Capers, which will culminate in a big weekend celebration at Capers in October. The planning team, made up of lots of Capers alumni, has been hard at work, having way too much fun, and pretty much ignoring all my good ideas. In 2021, we happily rebounded from the summer of 2020, when Camp Capers and Duncan Park were virtually shut down. This past summer, we carefully reduced our capacity, and served those we could. We are fully open again. It may be true that, like church participation in general, the first step will be the hardest, but once you cross the threshold—pass through the gate at Capers, come over the bridge to Mustang Island, turn up the mountain road to Duncan Park--you’ll wish you’d arrived sooner. In honor of this 75th anniversary, I’m offering one full scholarship to each of our churches from which no one came to camp last summer, child or adult. Operators are standing by. Not really, but let me know if you want to claim a scholarship. Think of your children or grandchildren…or think of your grandparents. Think of yourself. Camp Capers, Mustang Island and Duncan Park are waiting for you.

It seems fitting that as we look back and celebrate the wondrous things God has done in the lives of children and adults and our churches over the past 75 years at Camp Capers, we have also called together a Master Planning Team for the camp to look forward and plan for the next season of our camping ministry in the Hill Country. The group is headed by Brian Kates of St. David’s, San Antonio, and they will have their report ready to present at the October anniversary weekend.

You also heard the good news about the construction at Mustang Island, which, God willing and supply chains cooperating, will be completed this spring. It’s been a long time coming, and the need for this additional lodging and a chapel has only increased as more and more people have discovered Family Camp or other opportunities to get away to the beauty and hospitality of our conference center on the Gulf. The work of raising the money to get this expansion done and paid for has fallen to the Waves of Growth and Promise Committee, a small group of dedicated and faithful people. They faced and overcame several large obstacles, including a convoluted permitting process, Hurricane Harvey and skyrocketing lumber prices. It’s appropriate that they are members of Church of the Good Shepherd, Corpus Christi, since Good Shepherd provided the land that the conference center is on, after receiving it from the Fischer family. Since we’re not together to give them a standing ovation, I suggest we thank them by attending an event at the center. You’ll want to thank them all over again.

Racial Reconciliation Committee

I didn’t have a roadmap or GPS for Claudia Clark and Dorcas Sampson, either, when I asked them to co-chair the Racial Reconciliation Committee in a season of heightened racial tension and a national discourse—or shouting match—on racism. When I met with Dorcas to ask her about serving in this way, she said, “I have a question. We are against racism, right?” I said yes, and she said, “Well then, we can do this.”

I believe she is right, and I am grateful for the thoughtful and deliberate ways that the Claudia, Dorcas and their Committee have worked to build up their relationships—their friendships—with one another. Building up one another…building and rebuilding bridges…often must start with acknowledging the hurt we’ve inflicted on one another. While there are many resources, and many different perspectives, there is no diocesan action plan. What we have are brothers and sisters who are offering themselves—their experiences and hopes—to the diocesan family so that healing can happen where it’s needed and friendships in Christ can flourish. Racism is a sin, and it will be part of us as long as there is sin. But we know better. We know Christ, and in him, we have the power to live differently, to live in love and charity with our neighbors, to seek and serve Christ in others.

Committee members are ready and eager to visit with you and to share resources that they’ve found helpful. Please make good use of them.

World Mission

“Is it in the world? If it is, it’s world mission.” That was our Director or World Missions, Marthe Curry, explaining the obvious to me when I asked her a few years ago if we could consider mission partnerships within the U.S. I was thinking that sending teams within our own borders might increase the number of people participating in missionary work. And I was thinking that because I was thinking about how to strengthen your church’s ability to do mission work, where you are, and there is no better way to get people outside themselves, and to get over themselves, than to send them off on a mission.

Marthe has already commandeered the 119th Council to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Department of World Missions and to engage the Diocese in a year of mission. Throughout the pandemic, we sought and found ways to support our mission partners and encourage friends throughout the world, most of whom were suffering far more hardships than we have.

Our Diocese was formed as a Missionary District in 1874, which was created from the Episcopal Church’s first foreign mission field—the Republic of Texas. How wonderful would it be for each church in our Diocese to find some way to commit to joining in mission work in 2023, and to begin 2024—the 150th anniversary of the Episcopal Church in West Texas—with a celebration of the countless bursts of light we have witnessed. If your church is in the world, it’s in the mission field.

Immigration Ministries

When I agreed that our Diocese could take on responsibility for the respite center in San Antonio, providing a much-needed daytime shelter for refugees, I did so knowing that we would continue having the support of our Lutheran partners, Mennonites, Mormons and Episcopal Migration Ministries. But even with all that, I would not have agreed if we did not have Flor Saldivar heading this up. Since joining the diocesan staff as a part-time, short-term coordinator of Immigration Ministries in April of 2020—seems like 20 years ago—Flor has worked very hard and adapted often to the confusing, exhausting and politically charged immigration situation along our border. She has become a respected and knowledgeable leader, working not only with other churches, but with state and federal agencies, law enforcement, and numerous NGOs.

From the start, she has helped us keep our focus on serving those in need, helped the Diocese remember that when we serve those who are hungry, thirsty, naked we are serving Christ himself.

When Flor told me I needed to come up with a name for the respite center, I thought about it a long time. I ended up with Plaza de Paz—Plaza of Peace—because plazas and placitas south of our border tend to be cool, shaded, places of gathering and rest—much like the courthouse squares in many towns within the Diocese. Those who have been admitted into our immigration system and released to go to relatives or sponsoring families are often dropped off in San Antonio with little information about where they are or how to get to the next stop on their journey. They are often confused and exhausted. Plaza de Paz is a way station where they can rest, eat, get useful information about the next steps, and be treated with respect and dignity, welcomed as we would welcome Christ.

We are continuing to build up a network of congregations and individuals within the Diocese who feel called to this ministry. Flor will be delighted to hear from you.

Bishop’s Youth Commission  

Two years ago at Council, I announced the regathering of the Bishop’s Youth Commission to support ministry to and with young people around the Diocese. We have incredibly strong youth programs through our camps and Happening, and some of our churches have amazing, well-supported youth ministries, including serious, intentional preparation for confirmation. But many do not. I asked the Youth Commission to come up with ways to bring middle- and high school Episcopalians together.

Then there was COVID. So last year at Council, I re-announced it. And this wonderful, committed and creative bunch of youth, lay adults and clergy went to work. They have planned an excellent confirmation retreat at Mustang Island, March 11-13. The main purpose is to provide formation and preparation for young people in our churches that have only a few young people; but the retreat is also for those in larger churches that might have plenty. The retreat can serve as THE preparation, or as a supplement. I’m excited to be present for part of the retreat and to have a role in the teaching. But just to be clear—nobody is getting confirmed at the retreat. They’ll all come back home, ready to be confirmed the next time a bishop comes, AND ready to be given a share in the ministries of their church. Please make this opportunity known to the young people in your church. Encourage them to register. This generation’s St. Francis could be waiting.

I would like to speak of many more ministries, but I’m pretty sure I’m already pressing my luck with people staring at computer screens. I do hope, again, that you have felt encouraged and built up in what you have heard and seen during the ministry reports presented. I hope that you will see connections between these ministries and the life of your own church. I hope you’ll remember that everyone on the diocesan staff, and lots of other sisters and brothers, lay and clergy, are available to come to you to support your church as you reconnect and rebuild. And also remember that no diocesan committee or commission has too many members. Volunteers are always welcome.

A Word to and about our Clergy

I want to say a word to and about the Clergy of West Texas. In the Book of Exodus, the priests are instructed to inscribe the names of the people—the 12 Tribes—on two onyx stones, and wear them close to their heart. They are to hold their people in their heart. That remains part of the vocation of our clergy—to love and care for each and all of you. The weight of that love like stones kept close to their hearts. Sometimes, that’s easy and sometimes it’s hard. They don’t get to pick and choose who to love and they aren’t free to love only those who love them back. That we fall short some days shouldn’t surprise anyone; that our failures weigh on us and we keep trying shouldn’t surprise anyone, either.

I tell you this because I want you to know that your clergy have been hurt and worn down in the same ways you have during the pandemic. They have experienced the same fatigue, disorientation, anxiety, loss and depression that so many of you have. What has added to the weight they carry is that amulet near their heart where they hold you and the whole congregation. They do not leave you on their desk when they go home. They don’t forget about the challenges your church faces on their day off. Their concern and their prayers for you don’t stop when they shut down their computer. Their faith doesn’t make them immune to worry and fear—not just for themselves and their families, but for you and for the whole church family.

I hope that you will consider ways you can personally encourage your clergy and build them up. I hope Vestries and Bishop’s Committees will make your priest take his or her day off, take their vacation, do their continuing education. I hope lay leaders will look for ways to concretely show their love and gratitude, whether it’s a mid-year bump in pay or a gift card to a good restaurant or an invitation to go fishing or the priceless offer of free baby-sitting. Drop by the office—or send an email—to tell your priest all the things you love about your church, or tell them something wondrous God is doing in your life, or offer to help. When the going gets tough, the tough…need kindness.

Clergy, when I consider our biblical theme, I am so very thankful for you and for the many, many ways you have encouraged me when I was discouraged, and built me up when things seemed to be falling apart. God has blessed me, and Patti, greatly through you, and I am inspired daily by your devotion to our Lord and his people. I cannot imagine serving and hanging out with a better bunch of clergy than we have in West Texas. Thank you, and thanks be to God for you.

Conclusion

“…As indeed you are doing…” I have tried in my long and winding way to lift up each of you, and all of us together, as examples of how we already embody and enact the verse from First Thessalonians. I’ve tried to bear witness to what I have seen in you and in your churches. Jesus has shown us the way that leads to eternal life. In his incarnation, death and resurrection, we have received everything we need—everything—to be his Church in our time and in our places. With this resurrection life we have received, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, we will continue to gather and to go out. It isn’t the easiest time to gather together or to go out and serve others. But it is a great time to tell the Good News and to share the love and light of Christ.        

So maybe this time of caution and hesitation is ending. I’m not talking about health-related things, but about our spiritual and missional hesitation. Maybe it’s time to risk more than we’re used to risking, for the sake of the Gospel. Maybe it’s time to offer more of ourselves outside our churches. Maybe it’s time for us to open up more and speak up more and step out more…risking more, not foolishly but bravely and lovingly…risking much for love of someone, sometime. Risking something good and holy to encourage the discouraged and build up the broken down. As indeed you are already doing.

In that way, the Light of Christ will shine on in the countless bursts of light filling the landscape.

May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. May the Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

Thank you, and thanks be to God for you.

The Rt. Rev. David M. Reed
Bishop of West Texas
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