Bishop Brewer’s convention address stresses service, unity.
From start to finish, the Rt. Rev. Gregory O. Brewer’s annual address underscored and extended this year’s 2018 Diocesan Convention theme, “Evangelism—Embracing Our Neighborhoods.”
Uniting for Relief
This past year, diocesan outreach efforts have included food distribution (including 250,000 pounds of emergency FEMA relief channeled through St. John’s, Kissimmee); food pantries; two shipments to the U.S. Virgin Islands; and financial donations sent to St. John the Divine in Houston in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Brewer said. Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD) also assisted in ministry to community and clergy during Central Florida’s own recovery from Hurricane Irma.
But an ongoing need exists, he said, with the influx of more than 250,000 transplanted Puerto Ricans displaced by Hurricane Maria. Brewer emphasized how relief work can fulfill Christ’s words, “I was hungry and you gave Me food. … I was naked and you clothed Me.”
Growing in Leadership
The Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida also saw 31 ordinations in 2017, including more young adults and women than in the past, said Brewer, who also emphasized the group’s racial diversity. The diocese has students at various seminaries, its Timothy Fund providing financial help for aspiring priests. The Institute for Christian Studies (ICS) continues to improve vocational training for deacons and make it more accessible through online classes.
Moving in Missions
Brewer also highlighted God’s work in reaching diocesan neighborhoods via food distribution and other relief, numerous new and creative services, ministry to the LGBTQ community, and countless other mission efforts. He stressed the need to examine whether these ministries move people to faith in Jesus Christ, reiterating the Great Commission’s call to “go and make disciples of all nations.”
In that light, Brewer said, new church plants are beginning or planned for Lake Nona, Horizon West, and The Villages. The Fresh Expressions movement, with its emphasis on new forms of church, is also growing. In areas where the population is declining, however, some congregations may close.
Reaching the Youth
On a positive note, diocesan youth ministries, Brewer said, increased in number this past year from 46 to 68, thanks especially to a partnership with the Youth Ministry Institute (YMI), where Kirsten Knox has replaced Steve Schneebeger as regional director. Rev. Bill Yates will serve as Camp Wingmann’s interim director, with J.J. Joseph on board to oversee summer camps. Brewer has also worked to strengthen relationships with Episcopal schools, especially Holy Trinity Academy in Melbourne and Trinity Prep in Winter Park. Brewer expressed his appreciation for the work of the Central Florida Episcopal Schools Association (CFESA) under the leadership of Mr. Paul Garcia, Head of St. Barnabas Episcopal School in DeLand.
Praying for Discernment
Next, Brewer emphasized his need for counsel and prayer as he seeks God’s missionary strategy for the diocese. Three ministry areas, he said, require special guidance: church plants and existing churches, the exploding Hispanic population, and the growing gay population.
Because of a lack of unity, the third area offers a special challenge, Brewer said. His charge as a bishop means his decisions must be coherent with the “faith of the apostles,” take into consideration any action’s impact on the “faith, unity and discipline of the Church,” and be coherent with his global leadership responsibility.
For these reasons and after obtaining wise counsel, Brewer chose not to bring two proposed resolutions on LGBTQ issues, including same-sex marriage, to the Convention floor. Emphasizing his desire to avoid divisiveness, he announced plans for a theologically diverse task force to address these concerns. Chaired by Canon Justin Holcomb, the group will report on its findings at the 2019 Convention.
Impacting the Future
Brewer also spoke with fondness of his friendship with Bishop Lloyd Allen of Central Florida’s partner diocese in Honduras, unable to leave his country due to political unrest. Requesting prayer for Allen and his people, Brewer noted that nearly all the bishops in Province 9 (Central/South America) remain opposed to the passage of gay marriage liturgies.
Genuine inclusion, Brewer said, has been thwarted by the denomination’s commitment to majority rule and would be more adequately reflected by acknowledging differences in theology, geography, and culture and moving toward a consensus. Working the political system, he said, “doesn’t look like the church of the New Testament to me.” Instead, Brewer charged attendees to embrace their neighborhoods with prayer, wise counsel and genuine inclusion, acknowledging, “Our help is in the name of the Lord, maker of heaven and earth.”
“We are here to serve together,” Brewer said. “Let’s do it.”