Theodore of Tarsus
Dear Friends in Christ,
As I mark the third anniversary of ordination as bishop and we begin a fourth year of ministry together, I marvel with a thankful heart at the tremendous movement of the Holy Spirit among us. A great deal has changed over these thirty-six months, and helped to form the emerging fabric of our ministry together. Ministry development in our diocese has followed our shared call to serve God’s people on the local level. We have had to face many challenges and have accomplished much as we have examined and worked to renew or remove systems and expectations that no longer serve the cause of Christ’s mission in Brooklyn, Queens, Nassau and Suffolk. These last three years have been rich, courageous and faith-filled. We have set out on mission together.
Behind my desk sits a photograph of the late Bishop John Thomas Walker, Bishop of Washington (consecrated bishop in 1971 and died in 1989). From my earliest days in the Episcopal Church, Bishop John Walker both in life and death has served as a model for ministry. The theme of his episcopal ministry at the time of his election was “New Life in Christ.” He believed strongly that the goal of all he undertook in cooperation with the clergy and people of his diocese was the transformation of all things into that new life in Christ. This underlying unity of purpose held firm always, in conversation with differing ideologies, theologies, political perspectives, and even in the face of his disciplinary actions as bishop (especially with clergy). Everything was in the service of opening up ever more broadly and truly to the new life Christ brings. In a word, Bishop Walker was dedicated to reconciliation always and with everyone. “However”, he argued, “…reconciliation does not mean sweeping things under the rug or showing weakness in the face of important issues…It means using all our energy to help people understand why…and to try to convince them of the rightness of what we are about, rather than attempting to browbeat them into submission.” His counsel was wise then and it is still wise, pastoral, and holy today.
As a church and as a diocese we have tremendous opportunities before us. The world in which we live needs the witness and pastoral care of the church. Our neighbors and communities need our leadership and good example. People need the church to be the source of another way to live, a new direction, a faithful living in the midst of greater and greater unfaithfulness. I believe that our way forward is to live and teach the reconciling love of Christ in and for the world. At times we may disagree, but we can still live in genuine love and peace as we walk together and work together for the common good and holiness of life. We can respect the dignity of every human being, including those whose positions and principles we may not easily understand. Our way forward is the way of Christ whom from the cross prayed, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Together, our actions, our words, our purpose will be holy and reconciling. The cause and witness of Jesus Christ is not served when we, as the church, are anything but loving. We need not ever sweep disagreements, problems, and challenges under the rug. Instead, we seek as the church to bring a loving witness to truth and holiness that persists in the face of what is sinful or destructive.
My sisters and brothers, this is our time to focus on the work of reconciliation in Christ, the reconciliation that tells the truth and lives the truth of Jesus Christ in love. This is fundamentally our mission: to be the embodiment, the incarnation of Christ’s reconciling love in our time and place. In our dealings with each other; in our homes, our schools, our businesses, our parish houses, the time for reconciliation founded on honesty and truth, on love and mutual understanding, on unselfish agenda and holy self-giving is here. Reconciling love must be the work of the church in this Dominion in the Sea – and of the church throughout the world.
The Rt. Rev. Lawrence C. Provenzano
Bishop of Long Island