205th Convention of the Diocese of Ohio
November 12, 2021
Dear and treasured colleagues, good evening and welcome to this 205th Convention of the Diocese of Ohio, the second and, we pray, final virtual gathering. While this is the best and safest way to fulfill our canonical responsibilities for the governance of the church, it lacks the personal companionship and interaction that physical presence provides. Without the chance to walk together to the coffee urn, to sit together over lunch, to connect during breaks, to bump into one another at display tables, I haven’t the opportunity to hear about your family or your work, to learn again what matters to you in your parish and the wider church, and to tell you individually how much I admire the way you have navigated the last year as a leader, or your parish has reached out to its community, or your worship has reached those for whom pandemic isolation has been unbearable.
I know well how relentless the challenges and stresses of the last year have been. As lay and clergy leaders alike, we are given the responsibility of making difficult decisions, and either way we go, some people are disappointed, many times angry. The mark of a healthy community, however, is not that we all agree with a particular decision, but that, whatever is decided, we agree to live with it with a generous and patient spirit. In all honesty, that does not always describe us. One lesson we continue to learn, perhaps, is that if we need a community where we get our way, the church is not it.
Both in congregations and as a diocesan body, we are also finding that whatever we are returning to may not be where we left off in the winter of 2020, rather it is short of some levels of growth and vitality we had achieved. And yet, in the face of these tests, you have reached deep, drawing strength and confidence from colleagues, friends, and peers, and relying on sound disciplines of prayer and service to others, have found the next thing that God is offering. My admiration and gratitude for your leadership is immense.
Please know that, in spite of the limitations of addressing you collectively through a Zoom screen, I hold each of you individually in my prayers and affection.
Next year at this time, we will gather to elect a Bishop Coadjutor, the person who will become the 12th Bishop of Ohio. A Bishop Coadjutor and a Bishop Diocesan serve together for a time that is intended to provide both continuity for the Diocese and flexibility for the new Bishop. We have a long history of Bishops Coadjutor in this Diocese. Eight of our Bishops were elected to serve with the Bishop Diocesan whom they were to succeed. The most recent of these were Bishops Rodgers, Tucker, Burroughs, Burt, and Moody. While Bishop Grew and I became the Diocesan Bishop at our respective ordinations, he had the companionship of Bishop Williams as a Suffragan and I had both Bishop Williams and Bishop Bowman to assist me, whose help in my getting started was beyond measure. With Bishops Williams and Persell concluding their tenures as Assisting Bishops at the 206th Convention, a coadjutor period is intended to provide transitional support for the Bishop-elect. It is my expectation that its duration will be limited and determined by the needs and desires of the new Bishop.
It is no small thing to saddle a Standing Committee with an episcopal transition. I admire the seriousness and dedication with which they have taken on this responsibility, and I have every confidence that, with your collaboration and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they and the committees they appoint for Search and Transition will lead us in an effective and successful process.
One of the ongoing challenges of this year has been the continuing adjustments and adaptations required at Bellwether Farm to provide the exceptional level of experience by which it has come to be identified. Once again, the farm has continued to provide fresh produce to parochial hot-meal ministries through its Feeding the Beloved Community initiative. The staff on site – Administrator Janet Bowman, Chef Lonny Gatlin, Transitional Director Bishop Whayne Hougland, Hospitality Maven Samantha Kauffmann, and Farmer Kyle Mitchell – have been indefatigable in delivering the highest quality of service, safety, adventure, and spiritual renewal for guests of all ages, welcoming school and university groups, businesses, parishes, diocesan and denominational committees and commissions, and a wide range of others. Their diocesan staff colleagues have collaborated in offering a wide range of events, from intergenerational family camp to diocesan youth events, parish overnights, yoga retreats, a ukulele day, a fishing derby, vestry planning days, and numerous other experiences. And many of you and your fellow communicants have contributed immeasurably with your enthusiastic presence as volunteers, program participants, and satisfied farm-to-table diners.
Because of its creative approach, dedication, and responsiveness to others’ needs, Bellwether Farm continues adjusting to the newness of this novel time and is ready to receive you and engage your particular interests and gifts.
In preparing for this Convention, I have been drawn repeatedly to the story in the 7th chapter of Luke’s Gospel that I read with our evening prayers. It is a story about how we treat people – one another and strangers alike. First, however, it is a story about how we see people.
A Pharisee named Simon, having observed Jesus teaching a crowd of people, invited him to his house for a meal. When Jesus came in, Simon the Pharisee sat him at his table, but neglected to offer him the traditional gestures of welcome – water to bathe his dusty feet, a kiss of greeting, and the anointing of his head with oil. Then a woman came into the house and offered Jesus all three – washing his feet with her tears and hair, kissing them, and anointing them with ointment – and Simon said to himself words that revealed how he saw both of these strangers. “If this man were a prophet,” he silently said of Jesus, “he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she,” he said of the woman, “is a sinner.” In the private confession of these thoughts, Simon revealed that he saw them as he had expected them to be, as he had decided they were. He did not see either of them for who they truly were, who they were to God.
After Jesus offers Simon a lesson about forgiveness and generosity, he asks him, “Do you see this woman?” Of course, Simon saw her; she was on the floor at Jesus’s feet. But he did not really see who she was, which informed how he treated her. Likewise, he did not really see who Jesus was, which informed how he treated him. He saw each of them as he expected to, categorizing them as what he needed them to be for his own self-justification.
Peter Paul Rubens, the 16th and 17th century Flemish Baroque artist, in his painting Feast in the House of Simon the Pharisee, captures the moment when Jesus asks Simon, “Do you see this woman.” In this canvas that hangs in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, it is difficult to make out whether Simon is looking directly at Jesus or avoiding his gaze, but it is clear that he is not looking at the woman. It is equally clear that Jesus, gesturing toward the woman with his open hand, is looking squarely in Simon’s eyes. “Do you see this woman?” Jesus asks Simon, just as he asks us, “Do you see one another?”
One of the consequences of the past year and a half of pandemic-limited sight is that we are even more vulnerable to seeing others as we presume them to be. We pre-judge them, fitting them into assumptions that serve our ends, rather than opening our eyes to see them as Jesus does. That is the basis of prejudicial action, as how we see them dictates how we treat them. This feels true about how we see and treat one another, as well as how we see and treat strangers, especially those we suspect may hold different views than our own.
It feels as if this has increasingly become characteristic of our society - locally, nationally, and globally. It has resulted in greater or at least more openly expressed polarization and demonization, and the politicization of actions that otherwise have no inherent political value, save to draw lines of separation between people whom God prays would work together for the common good. And it has deepened the historic divisions with which we have been wrestling for generations in almost every arena of American life, including the church, and particularly the divisions of race.
Beginning in 2016, members of the Diocesan Council have been engaged in an intentional process of racial self-exploration and self-reckoning. For some, we have not moved quickly enough toward action; for others, we have moved too quickly. It has been hard work, especially this last year as increased trust and honest conversation have taken us deeper in understanding ourselves and one another. Speaking for myself, I have found this to be essential and confessional work, wherein my companions on Diocesan Council have patiently and relentlessly held up a mirror in which I can come to see myself and the Church more clearly and more honestly. When we open our eyes to one another, we open our eyes to ourselves, and vice versa.
Diocesan Council members have recognized by their own experience that this work is essential for all of us, if indeed the church is to “restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” Collaborating with the Commission for Racial Justice, they have begun to strategize how to encourage and support all of our congregations in the holy work of seeing one another and ourselves as we are seen in the eyes of Jesus. Tonight, both the Commission for Racial Justice and the Diocesan Council will offer brief presentations intended to introduce this work to all of us and invite us to consider how it might challenge and benefit us in our vocation to be the body of Christ.
We, religious leaders in our own communities, are very much like Simon the Pharisee, inviting Jesus into our homes and our lives. Our welcome, like Simon’s, is genuine. But because we are human, we fall short of the woman whose identity is often determined more by our own needs than her reality. My prayer is that we, as this Convention of the Diocese of Ohio, may hear Jesus’s question, “Do you see this woman?” in the penetrating and inviting way he is asking us always, and together address, in redemptive, reconciling, and reparative ways, the racism and racial inequity that plague the world God so loves. If we can see one another and all others as we are all seen by Jesus, then, surely, we will learn to treat one another as God’s beloved.
As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the late Chief Rabbi in the United Kingdom, wrote, “What makes us different is what we are; what unites us is what we do.” (The Home We Build Together, p. 16)
It remains a singular privilege to do this faithful work together, and I look forward to all that we might boldly do in our 206th year. Thank you.
The Rt. Rev. Mark Hollingsworth, Jr.
Bishop of Ohio