We have come this far by faith,
Leaning on the Lord,
Trusting in His holy Word, He’s never failed us –yet.
Singin’ oh, oh, oh, can’t turn a-round,
We’ve come this far by faith.
Greetings to my siblings in the Episcopal Diocese of California on a day when we remember the Feast of Mary Magdalene, and the anniversary of my installation as your bishop in 2006, to announce plans for my retirement as your bishop. I share this news with a full heart, full of appreciation for the time that Sheila, our children, and I have lived with you in this extraordinary place of possibilities. Upon my election, I offered a statement which was also a prayer and a hope of what we might do together; an excerpt of that statement follows:
“…your vote today remains a vote for inclusion and communion – of gay and lesbian people in their full lives as single or partnered people, of women, of all. Ethnic minorities, and all people. My commitment to Jesus Christ’s own mission of inclusion is resolute.
And I share with you your strongly expressed commitment to youth, to those who do not yet know Christ, our calling as evangelists, and to God’s waiting, expectant creation.
I take this election to be an expression of our common desire to be part of the whole, the Communion, and the world, in what may be a new way. We will work together in the listening process, lending the unique voice of the Bay Area Episcopalians to this great conversation and working to end global human suffering.
Finally, let me say, that being nourished as a bishop by the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama, fed by the historic and living witness of so many heroes of the struggle for human rights, whose words and deeds of compassion and justice have inspired and sustained me, I say to you the sentiment of a west coast hero, …in the cause of peace, we cannot be sprinters, we must be long distance runners. (Cesar Chavez)
With humility, and by God’s grace, I believe we have worked on all these hopes together, and there is much to celebrate. In the early years of my episcopate, we launched a strategic planning process that has been foundational for building the beloved community – we revised our diocesan governance to bring more transparency between leadership bodies, and we actively sought and developed resources to support diversity, engagement with our communities, and invitation to our congregations. We immediately began a transition in communications from paper to digital and benefit today from a vibrant weekly e-newsletter and social media communications led by superlative diocesan staff.
Our work together produced material and programmatic accomplishments that continue to impact the Bay Area and the Anglican Communion –
- a $2.3 billion dollar effort that rebuilt St. Luke’s Hospital and a new, quaternary-care hospital on Van Ness Ave, as a result our engagement in a city-wide planning process;
- a successful capital campaign that brings $14 million dollars in new resources to the diocese; the development of Episcopal Charities to the Episcopal Impact Fund,with a million dollars in new funds for Bay Area-wide programs;
- leadership on behalf of the Episcopal Church for work to address the climate crisis, including official observer status at the UN talks on climate change;
- the support of education in the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti, resulting in the planting of 160,000 trees and music education for vulnerable Haitian youth;
- co-hosting a climate conference with our companion diocese in Brazil that brought new teachings to the full House of Bishops;
- creative work in liturgy, such as Eco-confirmation;
- the development of our School for Deacons to an online program that will bring educational opportunities for the diaconate across the U.S.;
- essential ministry and advocacy for marriage equality in the Episcopal Church and in the United States;
- participating in advocacy and diocesan institutions and congregations that support Latino/Latina, Black and Asian heritage and rights; and,
- the launch of St Anna-Jubilee Farm vision, among many other important justice needs.
More recently, we have been finding new ways to be a compassionate and vibrant church in the Bay Area during the Covid pandemic using new technologies and resources that can sustain ministry. I am grateful that, through the generous giving of several Episcopalians, we were able to offer financial relief to 40+ congregations during the first two years of the pandemic, and a lifeline during the same time to our St Dorothy’s and Bishop’s Ranch camp and conference centers. We also benefited during this extraordinary time from a diocesan crisis response team with members from our diocesan staff, our Chancellor, and key clergy and lay persons, who joined me in advising and providing resources across a range of needs, from interpreting state, local and federal COVID guidelines, to applying for PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loans to technology for hybrid services and resources for liturgy and Christian formation.
We have also faced challenges, disappointments, and heartaches—loss of dear friends who gave unstintingly to ministries of our diocese, closure of some our congregations, and challenges particular to the Bay Area and to our world in the 21st century ranging from wildfires and income inequality to atomization of community. The spiritual I quoted at the beginning of this letter goes on:
Don’t be discouraged
When troubles come your -way.
He’ll bear all your burdens,
And turn all your night into day.
All these successes and disappointments, we have faced together in a pattern of common life blessed by visitations, confirmations, ordinations, and work with diocesan institutions and local and regional partners. I want to especially acknowledge the faithful, dedicated, and excellent work of diocesan staff, past and present. These wonderful people prayerfully and faithfully serve you each day. And, my siblings, there is more ministry before us!
Your excellent Standing Committee, led by the Rev. Dr. Deborah White, President, will lead, independent of me and diocesan staff, a search process for the 9th Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of California. In brief, they will call a search committee with a goal of electing your next bishop on Dec. 9, 2023. The consent process for the bishop-elect will take several months, and the date set for consecration is May 4, 2024. There will be a brief transition of about three months when your next bishop will serve as coadjutor, and Sheila and I will leave for our new home and life in Virginia by the end of July 2024.
This schedule, which follows the normal timeline and orderly process for a bishop’s election and transition in the Episcopal Church, affords time for me to not only continue in ministry as your bishop a while longer, but also to work with you on a number of important goals, for example, the full implementation of our DioCal Vital and Thriving Initiative, that will bring funding for new ministry and will empower congregations to carry this ministry out; the call of a Canon for Racial, Environmental and Social Justice; continuing my efforts to support fragile DioCal congregations; and, working with partners within and outside the Episcopal Church to address the climate crisis, including leading the Episcopal Church delegations to the U.N. Conference on Climate Change on behalf of our Presiding Bishop.
With these and other goals, you can see there is still much to do together, but I also look forward to your next chapter, when you will surely be blessed by a new bishop. Of this I am certain—the Episcopal Diocese of California is, and will continue to be, a place of possibility. It is a place of God’s grace and beauty, and it has been the deep honor of my life to share in ministry with you.
We’ve come this far by faith,
Leaning on the Lord…
Returning to the spiritual that has patterned this letter, I can see the sweep of Jesus’ ministry, that provides the shape of our own shared ministry, how the one on whom we lean was himself always accompanied by and relying upon the Spirit. The Spirit who alighted upon him at his Baptism. The Spirit who immediately drove or drew him into the wilderness for his testing. The Spirit who then poured forth from him as he went about the Galilee, proclaiming the nearness of the Beloved Community. I believe that together we have sought to conform our life to that pattern—always relying on the always-present Holy Spirit, always witnessing to the Beloved Community. I feel confidence that you will continue on this sacred path of the Spirit, that you will go forward in faith, leaning on God.
In closing, please know that when it comes time for Sheila and me to leave, that we will take with us the sound of the foghorn, the sunsets at the Bishop’s Ranch, the mystery of forests at St. Dorothy’s and the vistas of Tomales Bay at St Columba’s, Inverness, the warmth and love of congregations across the Bay Area, the sweet sound of children’s choirs, of campers and of young adults at campus ministry events, the sacred space of Grace Cathedral, and ties of the heart in friendship to all of you. You, the Diocese of California, will always be part of us—beloved community that has been our blessing.
I am grateful for the call you gave to me to serve as your bishop, and I will always have the great Diocese of California, and its people, in my heart and prayers.