The Rt. Rev. Gregory O. Brewer
Address to the 44th Diocesan Convention
The Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida
Jan. 26, 2013
This is my first address as diocesan bishop, and as I said earlier, I really am absolutely thrilled to be here. Now 10 months in, it's still going incredibly well, and I'm just as pleased as I can be.
You may have noticed this morning that I am wearing a rather unusual nametag. It is from the Church of the Holy Spirit in Apopka, where I was a recent judge at their annual chili cook-off -- a more seriously competitive competition I have not witnessed since my consecration! The nametag reads “Holy Spirit Bandito,” along with a bright red chili pepper. I was happy to receive it because I am a “chili head,” meaning I like chili and I like it spicy. And I guess if you have to be called a bandito (meaning outlaw), then a Holy Sprit bandito is the best kind.
It was not unusual for me to be a part of a chili cook-off. My wife and I love these sorts of events. I attended another chili cook off at Good Shepherd, Maitland. My wife and I attended a dance at Shepherd in the Hills in Lecanto, and a 50th anniversary lunch for Augie and Shirley Sorvillo at St. Mary’s, Daytona. My wife and I are hosting a series of dinner parties for clergy and spouses as well as a pulled pork lunch for the deacons. So far, a couple-hundred people have been in our home. As I said at my consecration, I want to be a part of a diocese that eats and laughs together. Last night’s hoe down was another great example.
Why are these important? Because it is at these occasions that we build relationships across parish lines. We get to know one another.
Over the past 10 months since my consecration as bishop, Laura Lee and I have made a little over 90 congregational visits in our diocese. Not all of those visits have been Sunday mornings. Sometimes they are dinners; having a Q and A session with a youth confirmation class at All Saints, Winter Park; or a youth service at Ascension, Orlando; or an ECW lunch at the Cathedral; or a Daughters of the King gathering at St. James, Leesburg. There were building dedications at All Saints, Lakeland, and St. Augustine of Canterbury, Vero Beach, as well as several vestry meetings. I also have attended meetings with our commissions, various ministries and our parochial and diocesan schools.
My Episcopal visits (which my wife and I thoroughly enjoy doing together) have often included overnight stays, dinners with rectors and spouses, being present for the early service as well as the “main” service, and hanging out at receptions and lunches after church just enjoying other’s company. A somewhat different way of doing church. We are having a great time together. As Joe Thoma, who often attends and records the sermons, says, “It’s like a party every weekend.”
I have logged significant hours of pastoral care -- especially for our clergy, who continue to be my top pastoral priority. I visit the hospital, or at the very least make telephone contact, when one of our clergy is sick or in trouble. My clergy have my personal cell phone number -- and they use it! I’m on Facebook and Twitter. People text me.
Why am I making this kind of investment in time and energy? Because you, the people of the Diocese of Central Florida, are my diocesan family. That is how I view us, and I hope you view us the same way. This is not my job. This is my vocation. When I left the Diocese of Central Florida some 20 years ago, the memories of the diocese that stayed with me were of a large, diverse group of congregations and leaders that found ways to work together for the Gospel: Cursillo closings that packed out St. Michael’s Church; or clergy conferences at Camp Wingmann lasting several days with time enough to put our feet in the lake and joke together.
We knew each other and cared for each other whether we were always in theological agreement or not. In fact, I would dare say that our theological disagreements then were deeper then than they are now, but we still knew each other, prayed for each other, cared for each other, wrestled with our theological differences -- we didn't smother them over, we really had some very frank conversations. In all of that, we felt the joy of being a part of this Diocese of Central Florida.
After arriving in 2012 (or I should say returning), I began to meet with the diocesan staff, and it was clear that they wanted that same sense of family, and so we began. The entire leadership structure of the Diocese has bent over backwards to make me and my family feel welcome. Special words of appreciation should go to Archdeacon Kristi Alday and her team of outstanding volunteers who made the service of ordination and consecration a joyful time I will treasure for the rest of my life. The night before the ordination/consecration I gave out some thank-you gifts. I couldn't think of a better one to give Kristi than a Wonder Woman doll, and it's the real thing.
I am especially indebted to the Diocesan Board, Standing Committee and the Transition Committee who have worked extremely hard both to allow me to get my footing and for us to continue to move forward together. It felt something like showing up at the high school dance feeling slightly nervous but all of us still joining in. Thank you, diocesan leaders, for your patience, prayers and hard work for this still very new bishop.
I am very happy to report to you that good things are happening here in the Diocese of Central Florida! Many of our congregations are places of deep pastoral care and spiritual growth. Jim Sorvillo, now leading the Episcopal Counseling Center, is doing a fine job of reorganization and re-visioning that very necessary ministry. Our diocesan budget ended the year over $77,000 in surplus, and you recently donated over $30,000 to Hurricane Sandy Relief.
I would like particularly to express my gratitude to three clergy in this diocese: Canon Ernie Bennett, Canon Nelson Pinder and Fr. Jim Spencer. These three clergy have been wise in their counsel, unfailing in their support, free with their laughter, and gracious in their prayers. In short, I trust them. Do we always agree? Definitely not! But we love Jesus and we know that about each other, and we are committed to serving Him together. Those relationships -- along with growing relationships with many other colleagues and friends -- are something I see multiplying in the life of this Diocese.
Continuing to grow in trust and in friendship will allow us the relational breathing room to do mission together, and I am thrilled to see that occurring.
Doing mission together requires that we make it a priority to recruit, educate and raise up new leaders both lay and ordained. I am grateful for the good work done at the Institute for Christian Studies and encourage you make the time to take advantage of their excellent offerings. I want to see Cursillo revamped and revitalized to raise up new lay apostles who see their communities as a mission field. Fr. Edward Weiss as well as the very faithful Commission on Ministry have joined me in helping establish new standards for discernment and training for those seeking ordination.
Why is this so important? Many of our present clergy and lay leaders are moving into retirement, some are moving away, some are less available, even as the population of our diocese is increasing. Presently we are not raising up leaders who are adequately equipped to meet the challenges of the current population in Central Florida, much less our growing future. To put it clearly, we do not have the necessary number of lay leaders and clergy necessary to replace those who are now serving. We must find a way to recruit and adequately train a new generation, especially of clergy -- but not only them -- to serve our existing congregations and to reach the newcomers to our area, people coming from all over the United States and around the world, and especially to reach those who do not know Christ.
The Timothy Fund
I am especially concerned with the raising up of new clergy. To that end, and starting with offering taken up at the Eucharist this morning, I am establishing a new fund, called “The Timothy Fund,” founded today on the Feast of Saints Timothy and Titus. The key verse that defines the vision for the fund is found in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Do you best to present yourselves to God, as one approved by Him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.”
The purpose of the fund would be to underwrite residential theological training for those seeking ordination to the priesthood. It has become clear that local option theological training is inadequate when it comes to providing high quality Anglican theological education. Distinctive Anglican formation is missing from the local options that are available to us. Plus, there is no adequate substitute for living, however briefly, in a residential seminary community. That experience of study, chapel, fellowship and mission with others who share your passion for mission and your passion for Jesus, within an Anglican and Episcopal context marks you in a way that other forms of seminary education cannot.
However, when I require a component of residential training as a part of preparation for ordination to the priesthood, I am keenly aware that I am imposing a serious financial and emotional burden. Frankly, it is unfair to make that requirement without offering significant financial support. One year away in seminary averages for a family about a $30,000 cost for tuition, books and living expenses, slightly more or less depending on where one goes, and whether you are single or family.
While that is a steep price, it is not out of line with the cost of residential education and, frankly, there are no adequate local options.
To make this fund workable in the long term requires that we receive enough funding to build up a cash reserve capable of helping us underwrite these expenses. Our current funding for seminarians is minimal, but it's the best we can do: we offer $2,500 per semester, which covers books, and some costs, fees and tuition. That is not enough.
Many of our young adults already bear significant debt from loans for their undergraduate education. That may not have been true when many of us went to college, but it is the reality now. When they already owe tens of thousands of dollars for their undergraduate education, to turn around and add to that burden really limits their ability to accept the call. It would be especially hard for them to accept missionary callings, which tend not to pay compensation at all. Or, if they do pay, the compensation is not large enough allow repayment of the loans. We cannot put our newly ordained young clergy in that situation, particularly on those missionary edges where we need to be placing those clergy.
So, to make this fund workable for the long term, we need significant funding. We need to build up a cash reserve that would enable us to invest as well as underwrite these expenses.
If you are looking for a place to put the resources God has given you, that will make a difference here, for the sake of Christ, I urge you to consider the Timothy Fund. We need these funds to help our seminarians get the quality education THEY need to be the clergy that WE need.
Help us raise up well trained clergy to help us reach Central Florida with the Gospel of Christ. Please pray for this fund's success.
Engaging our communities
New populations moving into our diocese are more internationally diverse than previous generations. Those who are moving here are a combination of college students, young workers looking for jobs, business transfers, and retirees. Some speak English. Some speak little English.That is why, this year, both my wife and I are learning Spanish, including a three-week language school intensive in our companion Diocese of Honduras.
Many of our congregations are not reaching their neighborhoods but instead limiting themselves to pastorally serving their own parishioners and those who take the initiative to go and visit that local church.
There are some outstanding exceptions, in terms of growing and reaching their neighborhoods, but there are plenty of churches in this diocese that have no plans to reach out to their neighbors, unless they show up on Sunday mornings. Given the rising number of Americans with no religious affiliation -- that is the fastest-growing demographic -- and the steady decline in church attendance in all age groups, that is inadequate leadership.
Unless we want to be as invisible in our neighborhoods as the parish church is in the television serial "Downton Abbey" (notice in the show that the building is there but none of the characters ever go to church), our congregations need to critically asses the influence they have or do not have, not just among their parishioners, but in their neighborhoods. We need ask God again about what it means to be salt, light, and a city set on a hill that cannot be hidden. We neecd to think of ourselvs in terms of “parish” as a geographic region -- not just “congregation.” That's not true to our heritage, and I really want to let that concept go. We need to be parishes, churches, not just congregations or outposts.
Questions to ask ourselves:
 Are there populations in our immediate neighborhoods who are not represented in our worshipping congregations?
 Does your church fit your neighborhood demographics? If not, how can we reach them?
 Who is coming to Christ through the programs and witness of our members?
 Are there adult baptisms or just children?
 Is God healing marriages?
 Are lives being restored?
 Are people learning their Bibles and how to apply its teaching to our lives?
 Are single people finding a home with us as well as married couples?
 Are children and young people being catechized in the missionary call of the Gospel?
 Are the least of these in our community being served with the compassion of Christ?
 Do we even know who the “least of these” are in our community?
Remember, when the apostle Paul reported to the congregation in Galatia on his meeting with the Jerusalem Apostles he said, “All they asked is that we continue to remember the poor, something I was eager to do.”
A missionary strategy is the fruit of a hunger to be a part of something that actually matters and that makes an eternal difference in the lives of others -- because it is for this purpose that we were baptized into Christ -- not just for our salvation, but for His glory! A missionary strategy asks the best of us and our resources. It humbles us, challenges us, and changes us for the better, changes us, as the Scripture says, “from one degree of glory to another.” Do you really want to grow in Christ? Then ask God to change your heart and make you his missionary. Then watch out.
As your bishop sees things, no congregation in this diocese can afford the absence of a prayerfully discerned, well-planned and measurable missionary strategy. Quite frankly, it's so wonderful to be part of what God is doing, why would you want to miss out?
I want our diocese to reexamine our missionary call. To that end, three events are planned for the first part of 2013.
The first is an overnight retreat on February 8-9. That is the reason for the vestry questions you received. That information will be used by diocesan leaders at that retreat. Current and recently retired diocesan board members, current and recently retired Standing Committee members and a number of our diocesan staff will gather at Canterbury. This will be a meeting for prayer, discernment and planning. My hope is that we will get some idea of where God is taking us -- but the “us” is all of the congregations in this room -- so your input and your intercessionary prayers for us are vital.
The second is the upcoming visit of the Presiding Bishop. March 2 through 6 of this year, the Presiding Bishop will visit the Diocese of Central Florida for the first time. As many of you know, initially she wanted to come and preside at my consecration. I knew, however, that if she came and presided, her presence would not be a point of unity, but of division. I did not want my consecration to be a point of division, but of unity! I sat down and explained that to her at her office at The Episcopal Church headquarters, shortly after my election. I said, "It's not that I don't want you to come, but please do not come to my consecration." She graciously agreed. She did not want that division to happen either, and so she didn't come.
So, not long after I arrived, this date in March was set. Now, what will the itinerary be? She will be visiting several congregations in our diocese over a brief three-day period. On the morning of the fourth and last day she will meet with our clergy at Canterbury. My hope is that we will be a witness to her that the Diocese of Central Florida is alive and well, and the Gospel works. We want her to know that we are staying within the Episcopal Church, and at the same time, actively witnessing to the power of the Gospel. We want her to know that we are not opting out. As some people have said, "I'm not threatening to leave, I'm threatening to stay."
We are meeting with her to testify about what God is doing in our midst. Her visit is a part of our missionary strategy. There are plenty of people in Central Florida who would engage in this conversation, because the wider Church needs to know as much as anyone what God is doing in our midst.
The third event is a one-day meeting with me for clergy in charge of congregations. That will take place after Easter, on April 17. We will gather to both hear from one another and for us to talk together about the results of the February discernment and planning meeting. I will solicit their reactions and input as to what next steps God is asking of us. We, as parish leaders, will gather together to take counsel for the Diocese of Central Florida.
1. We are strengthening our relationships with one another, becoming even more deeply a diocesan family.
2. We are raising up new leaders, and are committed to doing so both with time as well as finances, both for clergy and laity.
3. We are looking at our neighborhoods and facing the missionary challenge that is before us.
4. We are taking our place within the councils of the Episcopal Church.
5. We are moving in this early part of 2013, into a time of discernment, praying and asking God for His leadership and His missionary strategy.
Because I want to say to you that if Jesus isn't there, I don't want to do it. And there is plenty in that church that could cause that to happen.
Someone came up to me this morning and said, "Oh, it's a new beginning!" And it is. I really believe that God has placed before us an extraordinary opportunity. I really deeply believe in the joy of joining together in His service. The fields are white for harvest. So, family, let’s get out there!