Thursday, October 31, 2013

A lot to celebrate!

The ministry of a bishop is to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as apostle, chief priest and pastor of a diocese; to guard the faith, unity and discipline of the whole Church; to proclaim the Word of God; to act in Christ’s name for the reconciliation of the world and the building up of the Church; and to ordain others to continue Christ’s ministry.  
                                                        (Book of Common Prayer – An Outline of the Faith, p. 855).

It has been over two years since Bishop George Councell wrote to the people of the Diocese of New Jersey on October 21, 2011, announcing his decision to resign as Bishop of New Jersey and call for the election of his successor.   It has been nearly six months since my election on May 4, 2013 as the Twelfth Bishop of New Jersey.   This Saturday, November 2, 2013 marks the culmination of Bishop Councell’s call for an election of his successor and the historic choice made by the clergy and laity of the Diocese of New Jersey to elect me as that successor.  Wow!  That’s a lot to celebrate.

With The Right Reverend George E. Councell, Eleventh Bishop of New Jersey
and The Right Reverend Mellick Belshaw, Ninth Bishop of New Jersey
We celebrate the era of healing and love that is the legacy of the Eleventh Bishop of New Jersey.  Bishop George Councell came to a diocese that was hurting and in pain.  He had to restore trust in the office of the Bishop and in the offices of the Diocese.   He exercised extraordinary leadership and sensitive pastoral care as he loved the people of the Diocese of New Jersey with the love of Jesus, and led them “Right Onward” into a new era of health and wholeness.  I am enormously privileged to come into the office of Bishop of New Jersey at a time when the Diocese, though it faces significant challenges, is a healthy community of faith thanks to the grace of the Holy Spirit working through the faith and ministry of The Right Reverend George E. Councell.  I am enormously humbled to be following in his footsteps.

We celebrate the hard work of the people of the Diocese of New Jersey, and especially the Episcopal Election Committee, Co-chaired by Deborah Schmidt and The Reverend Ron Pollack, the Transition Committee, Chaired by The Reverend Greg Bezilla and the remarkable staff of the Diocese of New Jersey who have supported this work behind the scenes with countless hours of labor.   In the two years since Bishop Councell’s call for the election of the Twelfth Bishop,  many people have worked diligently and prayerfully to lead the Diocese through a process of reflection and self-study, producing a Profile, organizing a Search process, screening resumes, interviewing potential nominees, and bringing forward a final list of nominees.  An electing Convention was organized.   Once the election took place, the work of Transition began.  Farewells had to be organized for Bishop George and Ruth Councell, and a welcome for Susan and me.  Liturgies had to be carefully planned.  Thanks be to God for the Dean and people of Trinity Cathedral, the members of the Standing Liturgical Committee and especially for The Reverend Linda Moeller whose dedication and attention to detail are invaluable to us all. 

We celebrate our place in the historic succession of Bishops in the Episcopal Church and through the wider Apostolic Succession of the Church.  We are part of the incredible tradition and history of the Christian faith that stretches back to the nascent days of the Church.  The Consecration this coming Saturday will bring all of that to the fore and we engage in ancient practices and prayers, led by our Presiding Bishop, The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori who , through her ministry, joins us to the long line of Episcopal Church Bishops and also to the wider Anglican Communion.   Saturday will be, in all ways, a truly historic day. 

Lastly, and above all, we celebrate the work of the Holy Spirit in the Diocese of New Jersey and God’s call to us all to continue together Christ’s ministry of reconciliation.   In an essay from the book “On Being a Bishop” (New York:  Church Hymnal Corporation, 1993, 34).  The Right Reverend Mark Dyer, former Bishop of Bethlehem (PA), has written:

The ministry of the episcopate is a series of sacred acts that serve, preserve, and nurture communion.  As president of the Eucharistic assembly, the chief teacher of the Word of God and the Holy Tradition, sign of unity between the local church and the church universal, the bishop is absorbed, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, into a created participation in the uncreated holiness of God.  Thus absorbed into the life of God, the bishop leads the people of God in the holy life.   The episcopate, faithfully exercised, is a sacred deed where heaven and earth encounter the holiness of God.  It is the ancient command of God to Moses:  “Speak to the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them:  You shall be holy for I the Lord your God am holy.”  (Leviticus 19:1-2). 

I pray that, by God’s grace, I will be thus “absorbed into the life of God” so that I am able to be an effective leader among you and with you.  I am deeply thankful to God and to you, the people of the Diocese of New Jersey, for allowing me the privilege of serving Christ and serving you as Bishop of this incredible and historic diocese.   I pray this is a weekend for us all to celebrate together the grace and power of the Holy Spirit at work among us and to give praise and thanks to God to whom all glory and thanks belong.

I look forward to seeing many of you this weekend.  Blessings and peace in Christ’s love to all. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Guiding Principles for my ministry in the Diocese of New Jersey

I have been sharing the Principles that appear below in the meetings of the Convocation throughout the Diocese of New Jersey and invite vestries and other leadership groups within the diocese to discuss and embrace them as we move forward in God's mission together. 

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it.  For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.   (1 Cor. 3:10-11)
Principle I    The mission of the Church is the primary mission of the Diocese:
“To restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”  

Principle II The mission of the Church is carried out through commitment and faithful adherence, both corporately and individually, to the Baptismal Covenant: 

A.      Commitment to the statements of belief contained in the Apostles’ Creed

·         I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth
·         I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son our Lord.
      He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
  was crucified, died and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
  and is seated at the right hand of the Father,
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
·         I believe in the Holy Spirit,
  the Holy Catholic Church,
  the communion of saints,
  the forgiveness of sins,
  the resurrection of the body,
  and the life everlasting.

B.      Commitment and faithful adherence, corporately and individually, to the five Christian “lifestyle clauses” contained within the Baptismal Covenant:

·     Continue in the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers.
·      Persevere in resisting evil, and whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord.
·         Proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.
·         Seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself.
·        Strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.

Principle III The life of the Christian parish/mission and individual is shaped by a balanced rhythm of prayer/worship, study, service and fellowship. 

Principle IV The ministry of every parish must have a balanced internal/external mission focus.
·   Parishes/Missions must minister to those within their walls with particular emphasis on Christian formation for all ages.   
·      Parishes/Missions must also reach out and engage those within the communities in which they are set with particular attention to the poor, needy and otherwise marginalized.

Principle V   Vibrant Christian Faith results from a vital partnership between the institutional church (denomination, diocese, parish/mission) and the home, no matter what that home configuration is. 
                                               I accept the Five Principles of the Vibrant Faith Ministry Frame:

·       Faith is formed by the power of the Holy Spirit through personal trusted relationships often in our own homes.
·        The Church  is a living partnership between the home, the congregation the diocese, the denomination and the wider body of Christ
·         Where Christ is present in faith, the home is church too
·         Faith is caught more than it’s taught
·    If we want Christian children and youth we need faithful Christian adults, parents, mentors. 

Principle VI   Growth matters and numbers matter. 
·         Growth in faith.
·         Growth in number of committed, faithful Christians.
·         Growth in church attendance and participation
·         Growth in monetary income.

You shall know them by their fruits  

Principle VII   The standard for all ministries in the Diocese of New Jersey is one of excellence. 
·         This should be the basic standard of all of our offerings to God.
·        Today’s “church market” dominated by a consumerist culture and mindset does not tolerate mediocrity. 

Principle VIII   To forward the Gospel in today’s world, technology is to be embraced.
·   The Church’s easiest access to the home today is through social media and technology.
·    The Church’s most direct access to young people is through social media and technology.
·      The Church can reach out and engage in Christian formation and other activities through technology.
·      The Church will use technology and social-media to communicate and to build community.
·       In today’s world, a parish/mission without an active website, or with one that is poor or out of date, doesn’t exist to those beyond its walls.

Principle IX  To be a Christian is to be a member of the body of Christ and part of a purposeful community.  You cannot be a Church of one.

Principle X     In today’s culture there is a deep hunger for God and a deep hunger for genuine, purposeful community.  The ministry of the Church is to meet at this crossroad, address and help satisfy both of these hungers.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

What I've been up to!

Sorry it's been a while!  Here is some of what I've been up to.

The Reverend Dwight Zscheile is coming to The Diocese of New Jersey on February 28 – March 1 as our Convention speaker.  He will deliver the keynote address on Friday of Convention and will also lead a workshop/discussion on Saturday.   According this his biographical statement:“Dwight Zscheile is an Episcopal priest and assistant professor of Congregational Mission and Leadership at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he joined the faculty in 2008. He also serves part-time as associate priest at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in St. Paul. He is author of People of the Way: Renewing Episcopal Identity (Morehouse Publishing, 2012) [which many people in the Diocese of New Jersey read last year as part of a common reading project].  Dr. Zscheile is also author of The Missional Church in Perspective: Mapping Trends and Shaping the Conversation (with Craig Van Gelder, Baker Academic 2011) and editor of Cultivating Sent Communities: Missional Spiritual Formation (Eerdmans, 2012).   A graduate of Stanford University (BA), Yale University (MDiv) and Luther Seminary (PhD, Congregational Mission and Leadership), he previously served congregations in Virginia and Connecticut.   Dwight’s experience growing up in a secular home in California has shaped his commitment to helping the church cultivate Christian community with new populations and generations in today’s changing world.”

I had the privilege of hearing Dwight at Province IV Synod in the Spring of 2012.  He is passionate and insightful about the Church today and will, I am confidant, give us all new energy and vision as we seek to respond to God’s call to us in these challenging times filled with new opportunities. 

Earlier this week, on Monday – Wednesday, I was with Bishop Councell as we met at Christ the King Retreat Center in Greenwich, New York with the Bishops of Province II (these are the Bishops of the New York and New Jersey dioceses as well as the Bishops of Haiti, the Virgin Islands and the Convocation of Episcopal Church in Europe – the overseas bishops were not able to be with us for this meeting).  It was terrific being with this group of Bishops who work in the same region of the country.  Our host was The Right Reverend Bill Love who was a gracious and generous host.  The centerpiece of our time together was a presentation by Whitney Kunilhohm, President of Scripture Union/USA and author of The Essential Bible and The Essential Jesus.  Like The Reverend Marek Zabriskie and The Bible Challenge, Whitney is fostering a movement to encourage Christians to read the Bible daily and to do methodically and in community.  I support these efforts.  Too many people in the pew do not know their own story.  Engaging in the Bible Challenge or following the guidelines of Whitney Kunilhohm is a great way to become immersed in the Scriptures and into God’s story.   For more information see and

While the presentation was valuable, the greater value was networking with the other bishops and hearing of the great things they are doing in their dioceses.  They will be a tremendous resource to me as I begin my own episcopate.   It was also touching to see their great affection for Bishop Councell as he prepares for his retirement. 

On Thursday, October 10, I met with the Fresh Start Group.  These are clergy who are either new to the Diocese or who have been in the Diocese but have been assigned to a new church.   The intention of Fresh Start is to help clergy identify the challenges and dynamics of change and to assist them in facing these challenges in a productive and healthy way.  The Reverend Neil Turtain and The Rev. Karin Mitchell are the Fresh Start leaders and do a fantastic job. 

On Thursday, we had a farewell luncheon for Richard Grant who has been a terrific part of the finance team at Diocesan House.  He is leaving to pursue a career in photography which is his true passion.   We all wish him the very best. 

On that same Thursday, I was also part of a conference call of Bishops Against Gun Violence.  This group was formed after the Newtown shootings and involves more than 20 bishops who recognize that something must be done to stem the tide of gun violence in this country.    A major event is being planned for April in Oklahoma City.  The Presiding Bishop will be in attendance.   The Archbishop of Canterbury will also be in this country and will attend the event.   Gun violence is a plague in this country that particularly affects our urban communities.   As Christians, I do not believe we can stand idle while some 30,000 people a year die as a result of gun violence.  I hope and pray you agree and will be proactive in advocating for reasonable gun reform legislation. 


On Thursday, October 10, members of Diocesan staff and I joined the clergy and people of Camden and Woodbury for a joint Convocation.  This was the fourth Convocation held so far in the diocese.  There was a very solid turnout and lots of energy and spirit. I am grateful to Canon John Sosnowski, Canon Phyllis Jones, Canon Debi Clarke and Communications Director Jonathan Elliot, as well as Susan Stokes,  who have been part of the :"road show" with me.  

Fall Convocations have provided another opportunity for me to listen to the people of the diocese.   Each meeting of Convocation has been framed in prayer and worship.   During our prayer service,  I have engaged attendees in a sacred conversation in three parts.  I have begun by asking those present what their hopes and fears are for the diocese as we begin this new era of my episcopate.   Each person was asked to put one hope and one fear on an index card.  Many of these were read aloud.  Consistent themes have emerged -  fear of decline, of closing churches, the absence of young people, concern that I will become absorbed by minutiae and bureaucracy, fear that the diocese will not pay attention to the northern end of the diocese, or the southern end.   We have collected all these hopes and fears and are collating them in one place so that we have a record of them to remind us what is important to the people of the diocese.   

After hearing the Hopes and Fears of the people of the Diocese, I asked those attending to share with me the Good News of the Diocese of New Jersey by telling me about the places God was working in their parishes, missions and communities.   There was a lot of gospel news as people told me about the tremendous ministries going on throughout the diocese:  lots of feeding programs, participation in several places in Family Promise which shelters homeless families with children, growth in many places and especially among young people,  collaborative ministries and especially around Hurricane Sandy relief.  Again, we collated this information so that we can build on this good work and energy. 

Lastly, at each Convocation, I have been sharing “Ten Guiding Principles for My Ministry in the Diocese of New Jersey.”  I am placing these in a separate blog entry.   I understand these principles as “bedrock” for how I, and we, will move forward together in the diocese.  So far, they have met with very enthusiastic response, although one priest suggested that I should have included the Five Marks of Anglican Mission in my principles.  It is a point well taken.  I absolutely uphold the Five Marks and am putting them in a separate blog post as well.   They are a guiding light for our ministry as well. 

Beyond the Camden/Woodbury Convocation, I have attended joint meeting of the Northern/Watchung Convocation, the Monmouth Convocation and the Atlantic Convocation.    The Trenton Convocation will meet on October 23 and the Burlington Convocation will meet on October 24.  

That's it for now.  I'll post more of what I've been up to reaching back to the "missing weeks" in the next couple of days!