Living Fearlessly in Christ (10/21/19)

Monday, October 21st, 2019

“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”

(Ephesians 4:1-7)

St. Mary's Chester Food Cupboard
Free Church of St. John
Wellness Center at St. Stephen's, Philadelphia

As I begin my fourth year serving you as Bishop, I write this introduction with great hope.  We are at the point in our common life when we are prepared to take those bold steps to proclaim the Good News. The world desperately needs the promise and love of Jesus Christ.  As disciples in the 21st Century we are prepared to move forward with faith and courage.  Now is the time to live fearlessly in Jesus. 


Over the past three years, together we have done the hard and important work of preparation and formation.  In a world of increasing secularism and separation, our time is now.  We can no longer live as though this beautiful diocese is receding into the shadows of irrelevance.  We can no longer plan for a church suited for 1950; our ministry is to prepare for 2050 and beyond.  The world needs us, and we need to be part of the world.  Our diocese matters.  We matter to southeast Pennsylvania, we matter to The Episcopal Church and we matter to the world at large.  Working together we are making a difference in the name of Jesus Christ. 


I have the blessed opportunity to be with you 3-4 times a week.  At each visitation, I see and hear your desire to live into our true calling.  All our churches, whether small or large, work to spread the Gospel. With each liturgy, outreach, confirmation, hospital visitation, common interaction, we are showing the face of Christ.  And your efforts are providing a glimpse of God’s Kingdom.  I am always inspired to see your ministry to our community, where prayers are turned into reality.  You show tireless Christian love in action.  This reflects our convention theme, “The Year of Living Fearlessly in Christ.” We chose this theme because of your witness.  It is evident that we are ready.  Ready to try, to fail, get up and try again.  All because of our belief in the power of Jesus Christ. 


Together, we are meeting the world as a church. 


Your Office of the Diocese will not be a distant entity far removed from your daily journey.  We are committed to live incarnationally with you and the community.  In the last year, we strengthened and re-envisioned new life and possibility at previously closed churches like St. Jude and the Nativity, Church of the Crucifixion, St. Stephen’s Philadelphia and St. John’s Norristown and worked hard assisting parishes in making critical decisions which allow them to continue their life of worship and service; recruited 6 priests from outside the diocese and ordained 11 new priests and deacons towards the overall goal of recruiting 60 deacons in five years; added 8 parish wellness centers with the goal of adding more; opened the nation’s first program for female veterans living with moral injury and offered trainings in the use of Narcan and mental health first aide; created a partnership with the School District of Philadelphia to address impoverished children; led more than 18 churches through the work of envisioning, offering assistance with marketing,  providing demographic data; and disbursed $300,000 in direct financial support to our parishes through the Growth Development Fund. 

Yet there is still so much to do.  This is especially true when it comes to our commitment to address poverty in the world.  Jesus tells us that our very salvation depends upon how we respond to those in need (Matt 25:31-40).  Philadelphia has one of the highest poverty rates in the nation.  It also has the highest number of children in poverty.  Christ echoes the words of the prophet Isaiah when he proclaims freedom to those who are held captive (Luke 4:18).  We have to remember that poverty is not only an economic condition; there are sisters and brothers who are experiencing spiritual, physical, and mental poverty. Together we must work not simply to feed or clothe them for a day, but to help break the chains which hold them for all time. 


This brings us to the 2020 budget itself.  Budgets tell a story.  They speak of who we are.  They tell of our aspirations and where we hope to go.  They can even hide secrets.  In short, the budget of this diocese tells the world who we are. 


So, what does this 2020 budget say about The Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania?  When I look at these numbers, I see four threads that weave throughout.  It is a story that speaks of: 1) meeting the challenges we face with courage and hope, 2) deepening our trust with one another 3) grounding ourselves as a community formed in Christ 4) the willingness of a faithful diocese to move forward in hope spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ. 


We began 2019 facing the obstacle of projected deficit totaling $873,000.  This was troubling for many people across our diocese and for me personally.  Yet there was no clear answer.  We wanted to continue to support our churches but at the same time needed our churches to increase their giving to support our diocese.  In much the same way, the deficit was a result of transparency.  Over the past three years, we have aligned all previously existing budgets and demonstrated what it actually costs to run a diocese.  For the previous three years we had frozen assessments and dramatically increased direct support of parishes, missions and ministries. I was not willing to let us go backwards and undermine the seeds of growth that are sprouting across our diocese.

Yet at the same time we heard the concerns you voiced at the budget and preconvention meetings last year.  The deficit was an obstacle which was impairing our capacity to move forward as a single body.  We had to find a solution.

This brings us to trust.  Immediately following Convention 2018, diocesan leadership went to work.   There were seven sacred conversations in the spring of this year during which we listened to your concerns and suggestions.  We heard you when some of you said that the deficit made it harder for you to increase your commitment and support of our diocese.  We listened as some expressed fear of declining membership and giving.  We integrated your suggestions into the evolving budget.  We heard of your willingness to go forth into the world and support our mission in southeast Pennsylvania and the world.  We took your words to heart.  As a result, we once again approached the 2020 budget ready to continue our commitment towards mission, accountability and transparency and the proclamation of Jesus Christ.  We were firm in the resolve to discard anything that detracts from addressing the pain and poverty of the world, the support of our churches and that proclamation is Jesus Christ.  After prayer and hard work, we: 

  • Eliminated another 2.5 FTE staff positions. Staffing costs are lower than 2015 levels. (This includes increases in health and pensions.)
    • Relocated the Offices to Norristown.
    • Reorganized the staffing at four of our Missional Churches.
    • Sold property where we could not otherwise find a way to restart ministry.
    • Thoroughly evaluated the potential uses of Wapiti and it is now for sale.
    • Made a slight adjustment in the distribution from Endowment (4.6%) in order to maximize support of our churches.


When we were done, we were left with a surplus of $2,000.  While some of those cuts were costly, it was worth it for the sense of community that this budget has helped engender.  This reflects my commitment that we cannot simply play at being “church.”  We must be the Church. 


We are not a social club based on a religious ideal.  Neither are we a social service organization, or a political entity.   We are the Church centered in Jesus Christ.  All our words, actions and life must be formed and centered in Christ.  Christ, in every breath, word, thought and action.  Christ should be holy encounter after holy encounter.  If we do not proclaim Jesus Christ, we should not exist. 


We are also called to build up the Body of Christ known as the diocese.  We have turned the proverbial pyramid on its head.  We are out with you at your churches and in your communities.  I am working to hold office hours, worship or participate in service at our churches on a weekly basis and the canons are out with you every day.  We do so in order to strengthen our common bonds.  We laugh, cry, rejoice, mourn and support one another in our life together.  We are not 134 individual congregations; we are 134 churches.  We are one diocese, one people, one church. 


This brings us to the final part of the story.  As Paul writes to the Ephesians, as Christians we are one body united by the bonds of baptism.  In our diocese our collective sense of mission and vision is growing stronger day by day.  It is reflected in your increased engagement and support.  Moving forward we will be asking churches and vestries to gradually increase their support of our collective diocesan budget.  Stewardship is essential to our identity and mission.  Giving is an act and extension of our worship that continues throughout the week.  Your sacred gifts reverberate throughout our diocese.


As you may already know, the average parish support of our diocese is far below the norm.  Across The Episcopal Church the average giving to the diocese is 13% of the church’s normal operating income.  In our diocese, it is 5.9%.  For 2020, we are asking our parishes to take a first small step towards increasing their support towards an ultimate goal of 10%.  Some parishes are already giving at this level.  Some are close.  Others have some work to do.  But as one body sharing one spirit we must all share equally in our common life and work.  For 2020 we have asked only for a very modest step forward in your support of .02%.  We will continue to have open and honest conversations about the best way to get there and I look forward to sharing in this work with you.  


When I look at the story told by our budget, I am enormously proud of all that we have accomplished together.  Yet there was concern left unresolved, namely our support of The Episcopal Church.  How could we demonstrate our responsibility to one another and build trust with our churches, and neglect to do the same as part of a wider church community? 


As one of the richest dioceses in The Episcopal Church, we could no longer in good conscience continue asking for a waiver from our obligation as the dioceses of Haiti, Honduras and Mississippi are forced to do.  The Diocese of Pennsylvania has not met our full obligation to The Episcopal Church since 2007.  This is not who we are.  So, we went back to you, to the diocese with a proposal to meet our full obligation, not in five years or even three years but now.  What we found was overwhelming support culminating in a unanimous vote from the Diocesan Council.   This decision was made easier, because our endowment has enjoyed consistent and steady growth, which has continued through this year.

I understand that some may wonder why it is important for us to meet our obligation to the wider Church.   We all appreciate the importance of full participation in our relationships, but how is it helping?  Right now, The Episcopal Church is partnering with us on many initiatives which support our mission to Know Jesus and Change the World.  They are supporting new and innovative forms of ministry, providing resources for evangelism and racial reconciliation, and advocating for refugees, the poor and for the environment.  We must re-claim our rightful place as full participants in this larger story. 

I hope that as you read through these numbers that you too will find threads that weave together a story of hope and possibility.  It speaks of people and churches that refuse to give up or give in; about vestries and clergy who believe in the promise of the Gospel and who will do whatever it takes to proclaim the love of Jesus Christ to a broken and hurting world. 


Bishop signature

The Rt. Rev. Daniel G. P. Gutiérrez

XVI Bishop of The Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania