Bishop’s Sermon at General Synod
General Synod of the Anglican Church of Bermuda
25th June 2022
Readings: Numbers 11:16-29, John 4:31-38
Today is known as an Ember Day in the churches’ calendar – which occurs four times through the year as a time for the ordination of priests and deacons and for prayer for ordinands and others in ministry and offering prayers for raising up new vocations in a diocese.
Well, we have three ordinands that we are praying for regularly – half-way through their ordination training course. We have others from outside our denomination who are exploring life and ministry within our Anglican fellowship. We want to pray for all in licensed ministry but recognizing the challenges of our time and the falling and ageing numbers of our church.
We are called the Anglican Church of Bermuda – but is all of Bermuda reflected in our family, does everyone in Bermuda see our church as somewhere they could call their spiritual home? Do we have the people and resources to reach them? And what about the normal faithful members – do they see themselves as front line workers/ ambassadors/ servants of the church and community or do some just see themselves as passengers along for the ride along the old familiar routes? We need to pray, as that is the first step in the solution Jesus offers – to ask the Lord of the harvest to send more into his harvest field. ‘Look’, he said to his disciples as they are lunching together in the region of Samaria, recorded in our gospel reading at John 4. The villagers were coming out to see him following his conversation with the woman at the well. ‘Look…. Do you see what I see? The fields are ripe’. And he calls them to go and labour and reap– just as he commanded them from the Mountain before his ascension in Matthew 28.
Our prayers need to be for a sense of vocation for all of us, particularly this morning for our Synod members. Praying that God would open our eyes to see. We do so in the light of all our readings for today.
We are an episcopal church – one which is structured in a hierarchical fashion under a Bishop. It can be, and certainly sometimes feels like a lonely job (which is why I am looking forward to the Lambeth Conference in July to meet all the others in that position). But the pressures I may face as a Bishop are nothing compared to that which Moses had to shoulder. He had been set apart from birth when he was plucked out of the Nile River by Pharaoh’s daughter. Trained and schooled in the best possible environment at the Pharoah’s palace. But as we know, he had a number of crises – causing him to flee away when he tried to take on the mantle of leadership for his own people at the age of 40. It wasn’t until God appeared to him in a bush that his ministry, was fired up again – but not before registering his fears and weaknesses. God had to remind him that he would be with him and would give him a voice. Moses was sent back to not only convince God’s people that he was to be trusted as their leader – and that God would deliver them, but also to face the most powerful man on earth at the time and make demands that the Pharaoh release his major work-force of Hebrew slaves, possibly undermining the economic growth that the empire was experiencing of their labour. As he went to Pharaoh’s court to make these demands, he did so as a man who had been wanted for murder by the authorities many years before. A challenge! But with Aaron by his side…. he did it.
But even after God effectively rips his people from under Pharaoh’s grasp through signs of extraordinary power which he worked through his servant Moses, the task of leadership didn’t get any easier. These were a people not used to a life pilgrimage, a people who were unused to providing for themselves or fighting for themselves. Moses had to deal with their complaining, grumbling and outright resistance to his God-ordained leadership. It was exhausting. Earlier in the chapter we read how they want to go back to Egypt – where instead of a daily diet of manna they longed for cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions & garlic. Many today in our churches just want to go back to the ‘good old days’ rather than continue on this pilgrimage where we might have to rely on God a bit more in unfamiliar territory!
Moses cries out to God in verse 14 – ‘I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me, if this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once – if I have found favour in your sight – and do not let me see my misery’. Moses took his role seriously but was working himself to the bone. Previously, we read in Exodus 18 his Father-in-law, Jethro, priest of Midian advised him not to bear the role of judge for the people on his own but to appoint clan leaders to help in the resolution of disputes. But that notwithstanding, the buck stopped with Moses for everything else – or so he thought.
Now of all the people in those days he was the one who had been gifted with the Spirit. As you know in the Old Testament the Holy Spirit came only upon certain people for certain tasks. But on that day, God graciously poured out his spirit upon 70 others to lighten the load and share in the leadership and care of the people. Moses at the end of the reading was excited when he said – ‘would that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!’
Ministry is always supposed to be a shared activity. Jesus sent the disciples out two by two. He shared his life with 12 disciples. And on the day of Pentecost the spirit that dwelling in him was shared out, poured out not just to a select few – but to all who believed in his name and came to him in repentance and faith. And for what? To share in the ministry using different gifts, producing fruit. Some may be prophets, evangelists, workers of miracles, some in administration and gifts of help – the spirit is given to all and for the common good.
In our structures, yes, we have a Bishop, Clergy but we also have a Synod of representatives from across the Island and all the parishes. As we gather in Synod may you all ask the question ‘what must I do to share in this calling?’ There are several challenges on our agenda that connect with what has been said this morning where you can assist.
Firstly, that command from Jesus to his disciples to ‘Look around you’ at the harvest field. As part of our looking out to see the need for the gospel ‘out there’, we have to look within to see who we have and who we are, who is represented and who is missing. The popular, historical perception by many in our community is that we are the frozen chosen, old, white and established. The reality is different – I believe we are perhaps the most racially mixed of all the denominations in the Island, not ‘The establishment’ at all – however we are certainly ageing. We need for the sake of our self- awareness to know and to ask ‘who is missing’ and then ‘how do we consciously do things that will enable us to reach out’. What does our leadership in terms of its make up tell us? Strides are being seen to be more diverse, representative and inclusive in our Vestry membership, Wardens, Lay Readers– but in terms of gender and race as we go up…. the story is not what is should be. But I am hoping today that we as a Synod will approve a survey to enable us to see ourselves and for others to see us as we are and to take that information to the Racial Justice Committee and the Evangelism and Mission Committee. Just as we receive a copy of the charter that challenges us practically in ensuring that we do represent all.
Also, today you will hear about training of workers for the harvest field and the strides that we are making as a church. However, Canon Ant Pettit needs administrative and supportive help to move this forward. His parish would be pleased that he has this help. So, there will be a challenge there.
You will hear about a budget. A budget which is heavy on administrative costs but ridiculously light on supporting ministry across the Diocese – and that, too is a challenge for us. But that leads us into other issues faced by us – in our bureaucracy. Too long have I been banging on about how we need to work collaboratively, more effectively. The reason is so that we will not be distracted by our maintenance to the extent that our mission is compromised and also so that what resources we do have can be deployed for growing rather than sustaining the Church. Too many individuals have tried to work on this on their own– collaborating our insurance cost etc. etc. The Diocesan office has also tried to pull things together. The Bermuda Church Society has been successful in getting us to collaborate on health care – we can do this – but are asking – what is the Synod doing to increase income, cut expenses so that we can be more efficient and enabled to do the mission? Indeed!
Today, I am hoping to begin to form a new working group – not just of myself and a few others, but from across the Diocese to pray, review, ask hard questions about our laws and structures over the next 5 years and to push through steps to ensure greater collaboration and unity, to bring together the groups that are currently working on a parochial basis to get the support and equipping and encouragement they need, for there to be a sense of common mission, common standards – why? Not for efficiency’s sake but for the sake of the gospel.
And to that end we need to be better able to communicate and support and inform each other. And to that end we will be also launching a new Diocesan newsletter and publication – which again requires every person and every parish to commit to supporting the whole.
Next year will be my 10th anniversary as Bishop. I feel that there is so much to do. I have a growing sense of both frustration and urgency, but also, in my better moments, hope and faith. Next year the Day of Pentecost falls on 28th May, the day before my 10th anniversary. I don’t want a party or a celebration – what I would like is an evangelistic outreach to occur on that weekend, to creatively and in unity to reach out with God’s love and his generous gospel – starting to pray and plan now for that day. Who will join me in that?
The harvest is out there. The Spirit is with us. Who will go?
Amen, lord, send me!