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. 

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