"To Build for Peace and Cultivate Rootedness:" Homily before the Election of a Bishop Coadjutor
By the Rt. Rev. David M. Reed, Bishop of West Texas
Jh. In the Name of God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.1
When I was elected Bishop Suffragan in the spring of 2006, the Church’s canons at the time required that I go before a committee during General Convention that summer and be interviewed during a public hearing. The committee would then recommend consent to my election, or not. We were a contentious and divided Church then, but I don’t recall much hostility in the questions I got. Two of my fellow bishops-elect that year got such a grilling that the House of Bishops later apologized to them.
I don’t remember much about the questions asked, but I do remember having the opportunity to talk about the Diocese of West Texas. In my naiveté, I went on and on—even back then!—about the goodness and strength of the Church in our Diocese—how we valued friendship and how relationships of trust preceded whatever fruitful ministries might happen. I said that our clergy and lay leaders worked hard to keep the main thing the main thing and that this focus on the mission helped prevent our very real differences from becoming sources of real division.
I also told them that I believed this Diocese had something good to offer the whole Church, if anyone would pay attention.
I’d like to say that when I finished, the committee members leapt to their feet, cheering as tears of joy flowed. But they just looked at me like cows staring at a new gate2 and thanked me for my time.
All these years later, having witnessed in plenty of places division, anger, and the damage done when church people divide up and choose sides—and having had that naiveté knocked off—I think what I’d say to that committee now is… exactly the same thing.
This Diocese is good, healthy, and strong, and we have so much to offer the entire Church, even as we have much to offer our communities.
Now, I know—trust me, I know—that we are not good in every way and that any of us can list ways we are unhealthy and weak, as a Diocese and in our congregations. I thought about fixing all of that, but realized my successor wouldn’t have anything to do, so I held back a bit. Plus, any time you let people get involved, things can get complicated. I would’ve been a great bishop if it wasn’t for people like me.
I’ve said for years, I wish you could see what I see as I travel this Diocese: the liveliness and hospitality; the desire to love and serve the Lord; the generous and graceful compassion toward people who are suffering and broken; the pride in and commitment to communities; the ways big churches do little things well and the ways little churches do big things with confidence and courage. Oh, the beauty of what God is doing among you sometimes makes me cry a little when I leave your places—not a good thing when you’re driving down the highway.
Lest you suspect I’m just being my polite, thankful, middle-child self, let me read a bit of a thank you letter I received last fall. This letter is from someone who’s been part of the national Church scene for quite a while, and now works for the Archbishop of Canterbury—so, someone who sees a far bigger picture than I do. We had hosted at the Bishop Jones Center a group he helped lead until called by the Archbishop. He wrote, “There is a blessed peacefulness and rootedness there in West Texas that is a balm for the whole Church. Thank you for your faithfulness in cultivating and building on that foundation over the years.”
Cultivating and building are two good words that describe the ministry of a bishop. To build for peacefulness and cultivate rootedness assumes that a bishop is not handed an empty canvass. He or she is given a people, scattered over many miles and in many different settings. As much as the spotlight has shone on our three nominees, this election is about the Church before it is about them, about God’s mission as it is being lived out in the Diocese of West Texas. In so many ways, a bishop embodies, however partially and imperfectly, the mission of all the baptized, which is the mission of Jesus Christ.
When our bishop-elect is consecrated, God willing and pending the required consents, the liturgy doesn’t spend much time on the work of a bishop until after we have prayed for the whole Church, “that wonderful and sacred mystery,” and its participation in God’s “plan of salvation” revealed in Jesus Christ. The vows the new bishop will make, like the vows taken by priests and deacons, are bound up in the life, mission and ministries of the whole Church…of all of us.
Ripp, Alex, and David; Sue, Thi, and Jacqui: thank you for your willingness to accept this, if called. Thank you for listening for the Spirit, and thank you for the example of trust and faithfulness you have given us. And thanks be to God for helping us remember the call we all share to live as God’s children, to love one another, and to follow Jesus as friends and disciples.
In my address, I mentioned that I first heard God calling me to ordained ministry in St. Francis Chapel, while I was working as a summer counselor at Camp Capers in college. Maybe coincidentally—but maybe not—the Gospel this morning provided the theme for that Sr. High camp session when God disrupted my life—“I am the vine, you are the branches.”
John 15 isn’t about bishops, but about the nature of the Church, the Body of Christ. In Jesus’ farewell discourse in the upper room of the Last Supper, something is ending and something is beginning. It is an in-between time. He is telling his friends that those who abide in him, and he in them—those who participate in his life—have true life. They can never be fully or finally separated from him or from one another. As he’s getting ready to go out into the darkness that will take him to the cross, Jesus reminds them that he has loved them, he does love them and he will love them. His love will endure and abide. And they are to carry on, loving one another as he has loved them.
Those are words that can carry a bishop, and bishop nominees and a bishop-elect, a long way. Ripp, Alex and David—be at peace. Jesus loves you, and his love will see you through.
Friends and disciples, brothers and sisters—be at peace. Be rooted in the peace of Christ, so that the branches of West Texas might flourish and grow and bear fruit that makes Jesus smile. Now, during, and after this election, let’s pray that we will be grafted as living members of the True Vine and become more truly the Church of God’s dreams.
Day by day,
Dear Lord, of thee three things I pray:
To see thee more clearly,
Love thee more dearly,
Follow thee more nearly,
Day by day.
1 Long, long ago, when I was in seminary, I read that the first thing J.S. Bach would write on the page when beginning to compose a new piece of music was an abbreviation of the prayer, “Jesus, help me.” From the time I began preaching, that's been my silent prayer before I start. Jh—Jesus, help me.
2 Photo of cows at a new gate submitted after Council 2023 by Douglas Daniel, member of Christ Church, San Antonio, taken at his family's ranch near Cuero, Texas.
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