As I began my third week in the Diocese of New Jersey, I continued to meet with diocesan staff one-on-one. This is allowing me to get to know them and understand the joys and challenges of their ministries. On Tuesday, 8/20, I met with Canon Debi Clarke who shared with me the fabulous work she is doing with the youth of the diocese. Debi loves to say, “I have the best job in the Diocese!” and she means it. There are some challenges though. There is never enough adult volunteer support throughout the diocese to support the activities she plans with the youth. We’ll have to work on this. Youth need adult mentors who are not their parents. It is a vital and wonderful ministry. She would also like the Diocese to be more intentional in forming a young adult ministry specifically addressing the concerns and needs of those in their 20s and 30s who are not a part of our campus ministries. This, too, is critically important and something we all will need to work on.
Last Tuesday night (8/20), Susan and I joined Fr. Jack Zamboni, the Vestry and other leaders of St. Francis Church in Dunellen (http://www.stfrancisdunellen.org/) at the home of Senior Warden Pam Maiolo. What a committed group of people! A lot impressed us about this gathering. What was most impressive was the care and warmth that each of the people in this group have for one another. The meeting after dinner began with a “caring conversation” during which everyone had an opportunity to share some blessing they had experienced during the summer.
I learned over my years as Rector at St. Paul’s in Delray Beach, to begin all my meetings with prayer and with time for these kinds of “caring conversations.” It built genuine relationships and community, and made a real difference in how we approached the “business” of the church. I commend these practices to all church leadership. Especially when meetings are held on weeknights and people are coming in from their workaday worlds, they need time to pray and check in with one another and remember that we are the Church, the people of God called to pray for and with one another and to serve Christ and his mission. Fr. Zamboni and the people of St. Francis, Dunellen, modeled that beautifully.
|The leadership of St. Francis. Barbara Dalto is holding"Flat Jesus"|
Susan and I were also tremendously impressed by the history of St. Francis Church which represents the successful merging of St. Andrew’s, Plainfield and Holy Innocents, Dunellen. This merging took place in 1980. Present at that barbecue were some who had been part of both of the churches before the merger. They shared what a positive experience this consolidation was and understand well that it brought new life and vitality in ministry where there had been little hope and only dying. It is a great resurrection story that needs to be widely shared across the diocese, especially in some corners where there is great fear about merging and consolidation; places where it might bring about similar new life. During the meeting, Barbara Dalto introduced the St. Francis leadership to “Flat Jesus” a project of the Church School that will encourage people to take Jesus with them everywhere they go. Great work Fr. Jack and the leadership of St, Francis, and thanks Chef Vin Maiolo for a delicious dinner
On Thursday evening, I had dinner with Clara Gregory, the extraordinary Senior Warden of Trinity Cathedral and the equally extraordinary Phyllis Jones, Chief Financial Officer of the Diocese of New Jersey. Both Phyllis and Clara are heavily involved with Urban Promise of Trenton. (http://urbanpromisetrenton.org/). Phyllis is also very active with Urban Promise of Camden, including serving on their Board. Both Clara and Phyllis shared with Susan and me the story and good work of Urban Promise which does phenomenal work with the youth of inner-city children and youth. We look forward to knowing more and to working with the leadership of this important organization. Bishop Councell has designated Urban Promise as the recipient of gifts given in honor of his retirement. I encourage everyone on the diocese to give generously.
On Thursday, Bishop Councell and I drove together to Tuckerton for a meeting with the clergy of the Atlantic Convocation. This allowed us an hour each way in the car to get to know each better, to share stories of our experiences and for me to feed on his wisdom as a bishop who has done amazing work in a diocese that needed considerable healing when he started. I recently acknowledged to him how blessed I feel to be able to work with him in a healthy transition. I recognize that he did not have that same opportunity when he was elected 10 years ago when there was tremendous hurt in a diocese that had experienced significant conflict. What a gift to us all his healing ministry has been.
Our host at The Church of the Holy Spirit (http://www.holyspirittuckerton.org/) was The Reverend Martha McKee who also served on the Episcopal Election Committee. It was great to see her in action. Holy Spirit was hosting VBS that week and the undercroft was “dressed for action!” We began with sandwiches after which the 20+ people broke up into two groups. Half the group started with Bishop Councell who reflected with the clergy on his 10 years as Diocesan Bishop. The other group stayed with me and allowed me to share some of my personal story and then to engage in a conversation in which I intended to ask three questions:
1. What do you hope I do as Bishop of New Jersey?
2. What are you concerned I might do as Bishop of New Jersey?
3. What are you concerned I might not do as Bishop of New Jersey?
After about and hour and a half of conversations, the groups switched. Those who had been with Bishop Councell came to me, and those who had been with me went to him.
Bishop Councell later shared with me that the clergy had been very “tender” with him and that it had been a grace-filled time. I thought it was grace-filled time as well. I was grateful for the care and candor of the clergy who urged me to love them and the people of the diocese; to lead, grounding myself in Jesus and in prayer; to pace myself and stay true to myself and not get “sucked into the system.” They had concerns about the number of churches we have in the diocese that have too few people and money resources to function in a healthy and missional way.
There was significant concern about how senior supply priests are being used in churches to “shore up” desperate situations where there does not appear a realistic hope of supporting clergy on a regular basis either full or part-time, situations where there are 5 – 10 worshipers a week. These priests feel it is unfair to clergy in healthier situations that need the availability of supply priests to provide them with some relief for illness or vacation. Deacons want there to be more intentional consideration and use of them and their gifts and talents. At present, I am taking it all in. I want to continue to get around the diocese to the meetings of clericus and convocations and to listen, but I am aware that these are challenges I, and we, face. Decisions, many of them difficult, will need to be made as we move forward.
On Friday evening, Susan and I were the guests of Dot Cellini, the official paparazzi of the Diocese of New Jersey, at Arm and Hammer Stadium for our first Trenton Thunders game. It was a beautiful night and the Thunder defeated the Portland Sea Dogs 3-1 in a very well-played game. It was great fun thanks Dot!
On Sunday, 8/25, I was the celebrant at St. Mark’s Keansburg where Transitional Deacon Kathy Murray, who has been appointed by Bishop Councell to serve, preached a strong sermon about the woman Jesus healed in the Sabbath. It was a great pleasure to meet the strong leaders of St. Mark’s – Deacon Rose Broderick, Senior Warden, Cindy Medina, St. Mark Center’s indomitable Director Tammy Young and Vestry member Mark Schumacher.
|Susan got right into the kitchen and helped Diane Broderick!|
We stayed afterward and shared in the meal and fellowship at the St. Mark’s Community Center which has become an incredibly strong community outreach center and feeding program in the period following Hurricane Sandy. I sat and ate with some of the folks who come to the center regularly and heard from them about life in that community and the struggles the community has been facing since Hurricane Sandy. They were particularly concerned that I be aware, despite the television commercials promoting the Jersey Shore as if everything is back to normal, that many homeowners are still without homes and struggling. We met one woman who has been staying with a friend for nearly a year and hopes to get back into her home next month.
After lunch, Susan and I drove to Staten Island to visit Susan’s sister, our nephew and his wife and their new baby in Staten Island. It was great to catch up with our New York family who we haven’t seen in a while.
Sunday evening, on our way home from Staten Island, we detoured to Ocean Grove where we caught up with Debi Clarke who was helping to lead a joint youth mission trip of New Jersey and Long Island. I shared with the group that I was ordained in the Diocese of Long Island and how pleased I was to see these two dioceses work together.
|At Ocean Grove Retreat Center with Canon Debi Clarke and the Youth of New Jersey and Long Island|
We arrived in time to participate in “ice breaking activities” and watched a TED Talk video on “shame and vulnerability.” We engaged with the youth and adults leaders of the Diocese in a wonderfully insightful discussion about how important it is to understand the notions of shame and vulnerability and how these factor into the dynamics of ministering in post-Hurricane Sandy contexts. Our young people are an amazing group. I look forward to getting to know them better.
Wow! What a week! There were lots of new experiences and wisdom from lots of corners: staff of the Diocese, Bishop Councell, the leadership of St. Francis, Denellin, the clergy of the Diocese, the people of St. Mark’s Church and Center, Dot Cellini, and the youth and youth leaders of New Jersey and Long Island. One thing is clear: There is a lot of great energy and commitment to the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Diocese of New Jersey! Thanks be to God!!