The 149th Annual Convention Bishop’s Address

The 149th Annual Convention of The Episcopal Diocese of Albany
(June 9th – June 11th 2017)
Bishop’s Address
The Right Reverend William H. Love

      As I look back at this past year, in many ways it has been a year of sorrow and loss, a year of transition and new beginnings, a year of anxiousness and hope, a year of joy and excitement.

We have had to say good-by to some very special people, to include our dear friend and former Bishop, Bishop David Ball.  You might recall at last year’s Diocesan Convention we celebrated Bishop Ball’s 90th birthday and over 60 years of ordained ministry.  On Easter Tuesday, he took his final breath in this world and returned home to our Lord and Savior, where no doubt he was greeted with the words we all long to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  Bishop Ball will be greatly missed.

This past year, two of the Dioceses’ key institutions or ministries — The Cathedral of All Saints and Christ the King Spiritual Life Center said good-by to their leaders and have gone through a great deal of transition and change as they were faced with calling new leadership.  As mentioned earlier, by the grace of God and a lot of hard work we were able to call two outstanding new leaders:  The Very Rev. Dr. Leander Harding as Dean, and Mr. Reuben Todd as Executive Director of CTK.  While the search process was long and often difficult, requiring a great deal of  honest reflection and self-evaluation, I believe the Cathedral and Christ the King Center are both stronger and better equipped to move forward in the ministries the Lord is calling them to – sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ and building the Kingdom of God.

Several of our parishes have gone through, or are currently going through similar periods of transition as they adjust to, or search for new rectors and Church leaders.  This past year six of our parishes called new rectors or Priests in Charge; one has just issued a call and is still waiting to hear from the priest.  Fourteen others are in various stages of the search process.  While I realize these periods of transition can be very stressful, the Lord often uses this time to heal past wounds, raise up new lay leaders, and breathe new life into the parish.  I pray in God’s time each parish will find just the right person to lead them in this next chapter in their parish’s life.

Another important diocesan ministry that went through a great deal of transition (both in its leadership and physical location) was the Oaks of Righteousness.  One of the original founders of the ministry, Mtr. Hannah Mudge stepped down (due to health reasons and a desire to continue her education), and Fr. Paul Hunter came on board joining forces with his wife Mtr. Christina.  While all of that was taking place, Oaks of Righteousness was moved from its original café location to the newly renovated St. Patrick’s Rectory.  It is truly exciting to see how this ministry continues to grow, sharing the Light of Christ in one of the darkest and most dangerous neighborhoods in North Central Troy.  It has not been easy, or without costs, but the Lord is blessing this ministry.  I know many members of the Diocese have given a great deal of their time, talent and resources in support of Oaks of Righteousness.  Thank you!  The Lord is blessing your efforts.

The Diocesan Staff went through its own period of change and transition this year as well, as it moved the Diocesan Business Office and Bishop’s Office into the newly built addition to the Diocesan Administration Building which had been quite small and confining.  As with any move of this magnitude, there were a few electronic and technical issues to deal with, but overall the move went very smoothly.  Not only is it a much more pleasant environment to work in, but it also provided the desperately needed space for the growing needs of the Diocese.  I am very appreciative to everyone who helped make the new facilities possible.  We hope to have an official dedication of the new space in the near future.

These are just a few of the many ways we have experienced change and transition this past year throughout the Diocese.  While we have had our moments of sadness and loss, as well as moments of anxiousness and uncertainty, the Lord had been good – helping us through those moments and giving us much to be thankful for and hopeful for.

Now, on a less positive note, as we look beyond the life of the Diocese, to the wider world, there is much that could cause great anxiousness and concern.  The political scene of our nation has gone through one of the most controversial and turbulent presidential elections in U.S. history.  Some were overjoyed by the results, others were devastated.  Many of us are holding our breath waiting to see what happens next.  One thing is for certain, whether we like our new President or not, President Trump and this Nation need our prayers and our Christian witness.

Both at home and abroad, the growing threat of terrorism has wreaked havoc and fear.  Radical Islamic extremists as well as other political and religious extremists have conducted senseless, brutal, barbaric acts of murder and terrorism against innocent men, women and children in our own nation and throughout the world.  It is no longer a question of “if” another attack will take place, but when and where.  No one is immune.

There is growing debate and division among individuals and nations as how best to deal with the hundreds of thousands of innocent refugees fleeing for their lives while at the same time trying to protect the nations of the world from terrorists who pose as refugees in order to sneak into the United States and other western countries to carry out more terrorists attacks.  This is definitely a time to heed Jesus’ command to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)

Despite tremendous efforts and much success over the past several decades to ease racial tension and bring about a greater sense of equality for people of all ethnic and racial backgrounds, there is still far more that needs to be done as witnessed by the ongoing protests and acts of discrimination throughout the United States and the world.  May God give us the eyes and the heart to see one another and love one another as His Son, Christ Jesus sees us and loves us.

The level of poverty, especially among unwed mothers and children in broken homes is continuing to rise out of control, leaving millions not only hungry and in great need, but with a growing sense of hopelessness.  Unwed mothers is one of the largest poverty groups in our country.

The huge number of people being incarcerated in our own country (especially among young African American men) is tragic.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics 2,220,300 adults were incarcerated in U.S. federal, state and county prisons and jails in 2013.  That is (1 in every 110 adults); 4,751,400 adults or (1 in 51) were on probation or parole.  “In October 2013, the incarceration rate in the United States was the highest in the world.  While the U.S. only makes up 4.4 percent of the world’s population, it houses 22 percent of the world’s prisoners.”

The ever growing number of people of all ages, genders, and socio-economic backgrounds enslaved to all sorts of addictions (drugs, alcohol, pornography, and gambling) as well as those struggling with various sexual identity issues is sky rocketing.

The ongoing attacks on marriage, family, and the unborn child are relentless.  The very building blocks of society are crumbling all around us, with no end in sight.  Fifty percent of all marriages end in divorce.  Families have less and less time for one another, and what time they are together, many are simply sharing a space while they do their own things talking or texting on their cell phones or surfing the net.  The next time you go to a restaurant, look around you and see how many people are actually talking to one another verses staring at their cell phones.

According to the World Health Organization, in the U.S. nearly half of all pregnancies are unintended and 4 out of 10 are terminated in abortion.  In 2013 — 664,435 babies were killed in the United States through abortions.

All of these things are indicative of the brokenness of our society and the fallen world in which we live.  The United States and much of the rest of the world is spiraling ever deeper into darkness and away from the one true source of light – the Light of Christ.

I share these things with you tonight, not to depress you, or damper our evening together, but rather to stress the absolute importance and necessity of truly living out our Lord’s command and the theme of this year’s Convention – “Let your light shine!” (Matthew 5:16)

Although Christianity and the Church is coming under ever greater attack throughout the  world to include the United States – a country originally founded on Judeo-Christian values, this is NO time to hide or put our light under a basket.

In his new book “Impossible People,” Os Guinness, one of the great Christian Statesmen and Apologists of the 21 Century, speaks of the extreme seriousness the Church finds itself in and the need to stand up for the Christian faith and our Lord Jesus Christ.  The failure to do so will have dire consequences.  He writes:

“Is Jesus Lord, or are the forces of advance modernity lord? The church that cannot say no to all that contradicts its Lord is a church that is well down the road to cultural defeat and captivity. But the courage to say no has to be followed by an equally clear, courageous and constructive yes—to the Lord himself, to his gospel and his vision of life, humanity and the future, so that Christians can be seen to live differently and to live better in the world of today.”

He goes on to say, “We face a solemn hour for humanity at large and a momentous showdown for the Western church. At stake is the attempted completion of the centuries-long assault on the Jewish and Christian faiths and their replacement by progressive secularism as the defining faith of the West and the ideology said to be the best suited to the conditions of advanced modernity. The gathering crisis is therefore about nothing less than a struggle for the soul of the West and the place of faith—any faith—in the life of advanced modern societies.

“For if the anti-Christian forces prevail, they represent nothing less than a return to the philosophy, the ethics and the lifestyles of the pagan world that Christians overcame originally. In other words, today’s challenge rivals that of the fateful clash of the early church with the Caesars in the first three centuries and the menace of the sultans of Ottoman Islam in the sixteenth.”

And finally, Os Guinness states that “As salt and light in today’s extraordinary world, our contribution is indispensable. We are not simply guardians of some of the best of the past, but pioneers whose task is to stand against the world for the future of the world—and for the very future of humanity.”

Os is not over exaggerating. He has had the courage to say that which is before us.

As I stated in my recent letter of invitation to the Diocesan Convention, God doesn’t want us living in darkness, as evidenced by His very first command recorded in the Creation Story – “Let there be light!” (Genesis 1:3)  Tragically, it wasn’t long after God created Adam and Eve and placed them in the Garden of Eden (Paradise on Earth) that the world was plunged into the darkness of sin as a result of Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God.

Out of His love for us, God sent His Son, Jesus Christ (the new Adam) to save us from the power of sin and death resulting from the first Adam’s sinful disobedience.  Jesus said, “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” (John 12:46)   The Apostle John writes, “In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5).

Jesus is in fact the true “light of the world” that brings life — not death; goodness — not evil; peace — not fear; comfort – not sorrow; fulfillment – not emptiness.  In the Psalms we read, “Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim You, who walk in the light of your presence Lord.” (Psalm 89:15).

Jesus not only invites us to walk in the light of His presence, but also to be a reflection of His light as we share in His ministry of salvation.  As His disciples, Jesus commands us to go forth boldly in His name and to be a channel of His love and mercy and healing grace.  Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.  A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16).

The light that shines forth in us is not generated by us, but rather it is a reflection of the light of Christ that is within us and the power and presence of His Holy Spirit. The Lord is calling us not to hide our light, He is calling us to allow His light to shine forth so that others may come to know Him in and through the lives that we live and share.

Wednesday morning I was working at my desk at home trying to figure out what I was going to be saying this evening. While working, the phone rang. Initially I was going to ignore it. I let the answering machine pick it up, but I was listening as the message went on. It soon became obvious that the message that was being shared was not one that could be ignored—that the person calling was in a true state of crisis; a person whose life was falling apart all around her. A reoccurrence of cancer had come back and she had been out of work for over two months. Her health insurance was about to come to an end. She was out all by herself with no family or friends nearby—a true state of hopelessness.

By the grace of God, I had the wisdom to get up from the desk and go answer the phone and share with my dear sister in Christ who was struggling and to offer a word of encouragement as best I could given all that she was confronted with. I then took a moment and wrote a note of encouragement and sent a little gift to try and help her during this in between time.

Afterwards, I went out for a walk to try to get myself reoriented for tonight’s Bishop’s Address. My first question for the Lord was how can we live the light of Christ? His response almost immediately was “You just did it.”

We make it much harder than we need to. The Lord calls us to live our life in such a way that it is not all about us. First and foremost, it’s about Him—living in relationship with Him. When we do that, we can’t help but be transformed by Him. We can’t help but have care and compassion for those around us. We can’t help but want to share the Good News that Jesus offers. We can’t help but want to be there for people in their time of need. In so doing, we are letting our light shine—Christ’s light shine. There is no one way that that happens. Day in and day out, we are faced with these opportunities. Many things can get in the way. We can easily be distracted. But may God give us the eyes to see one another and the hearts to love one another in such a way that we are willing to reach out; that we are willing to minister to one another as best we can through God’s grace.

Jesus said don’t worry about what you are to say. He will give us the words at the right moment. While I was listening to my friend pour out her soul, I was actively praying, “Lord, help me know what to say.” One of the things she needed most was not for me to talk, but simply listen. May God use us in such a way that we can, in fact, make a true difference in the world around us. We can’t change everything but we can change some things. We can’t impact everyone, but we can impact some. I pray that the Lord will touch each of us this weekend. Jesus not only invites us to walk in the light of His presence, but also to be a reflection of His light as we share in His ministry of salvation.

The theme of this year’s Diocesan Convention is focused on our Lord’s command: “Let your light shine!” (Matthew 5:16)  In many ways it is a continuation of last year’s Convention theme: “Abide in Christ, Bear Fruit, Glorify God.” Despite the growing attacks on the Church and the continuous move toward political correctness, and its ensuing fallout, the need to remain strong and boldly proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in love, yet unapologetically, is needed as much if not more now than ever before.

I invite each of you this weekend to join me as we learn not only how to better walk in the light of Christ, but also how to be a reflection of His Light so that those around us who are stumbling in the darkness will see and be drawn to the light of Christ in order that they may be set free to truly live and become children of God.

We are called by God to be His people in this generation.  We are invited by His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to be His disciples, to follow Him so closely, that our lives become transformed by His; that we become one with Him; that His Light shines forth in us and through us, so that when people see us, they see Christ who lives in us in the power and presence of His Holy Spirit.

I would like to close this evening with a prayer that was at the conclusion of Os’ book. Let us pray:

“O Lord, we humbly bow before you. Without your truth, we are confused and our lives lack meaning. Without your grace, we are lost in our sin and cannot find you or save ourselves. Without your mercy, we are overwhelmed by our smallness. Without your providence, we are overcome by a world that refuses be transformed according to our endeavors and our ideals. You are our Lord and our Rescuer. Grant us your truth to clear our fog, your grace to restore us when we go wrong, your fresh calling to stir new purpose in our hearts, and above all your love and mercy to help us stand with heads held high—that we may be a people worthy of the high calling of making a home for your divine presence in our world and in our time. In Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.” God bless you.