Bishop Gates's address to Diocesan Convention 2017


Following is the text of the address given by Bishop Alan M. Gates on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017, at the 232nd annual convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts.

A fable from the pen of Arnold Lobel:

The elephant and his son were spending an evening at home.  Elephant Son was singing a song.

Bishop Gates gives address 2017

“You must be silent,” said Elephant Father.  “Your papa is trying to read his newspaper.  Papa cannot listen to a song while he is reading his newspaper.”

“Why not?” asked Elephant Son.

“Because Papa can think about only one thing at a time, that is why,” said Elephant Father.

Elephant Son stopped singing.  He sat quietly. Elephant Father lit a cigar and went on reading.

After a while, Elephant Son asked, “Papa, can you still think about only one thing at a time?”

“Yes, my boy,” said Elephant Father, “that is correct.”

“Well then,” said Elephant Son, “you might stop thinking about your newspaper and begin to think about the slipper that is on your left foot.”

“But my boy,” said Elephant Father, “Papa’s newspaper is far more important and interesting and informative than the slipper that is on his left foot.”

“That may be true,” said Elephant Son, “but while your newspaper is not on fire from the ashes of your cigar, the slipper that is on your left foot certainly is!”

Elephant Father ran to put his foot in a bucket of water.  Softly, Elephant Son began to sing again. (i)

There are several ways in which I find this story altogether true.

(1) Sometimes there are urgent matters which may not be the things which we had expected or necessarily hoped primarily to be focused upon, but which nonetheless are urgent in our day, and demand our response; some things are "on fire";

(2) We actually have no choice but to be thinking, as best we can, about more than one thing at a time; and

(3) In the end there will always be a song.

So let’s think about more than one thing.  I want to talk about several things, actually.


I want to say a word about restructuring in our diocesan staff.  As you know from my announcement last month, several significant changes to our staffing structure are underway.  Some of these have been driven by my own observations over the past three years, and priorities for the future.  Some are driven by the mission strategy which we embraced last November.  And some are driven by the reduction of the diocesan budget which has resulted from the new assessment formula.  Let me comment on three of these staffing changes.

First, as you have heard, a new position of regional canon will be developed in 2018.  Three regional canons will live and serve in areas encompassing four deaneries apiece–a north-and-western region; a central region; and a southern region.  The regional canons will have three primary spheres of responsibility:  transition ministry, with congregations undergoing leadership change, and with clergy discerning a new call; lay leader development in congregations, and exploration of new and varied models for such leadership; and promoting clergy wellness in ways that will complement the pastoral care of clergy already offered by your deanery deans.

These three tasks–clergy leadership transition, lay leader development and clergy wellness–are not randomly combined, but are integrally related one to another. The engagement of 60 congregations by each regional canon will enable these things to be addressed in ways that responsibility for 180 congregations has simply not allowed.  The regional canons will be based not at 138 Tremont Street, but will spend their days out and about, learning, equipping, accompanying and supporting local ministries and collaborations.  We will refine the descriptions in the next couple of months for a search over the winter and spring, and hope to have our new regional canons in place at the start of the summer.

A second new position is that of canon for immigrant and multicultural ministries.  It has been my conviction since the earliest months of my traveling about in the diocese that we need to devote greater attention to how immigrant and multicultural ministries are supported in our life together.  Our mission strategy likewise calls for “investing in ministries with communities of color and immigrant communities, drawing upon their unique strengths and supporting their health.” [Goal 7.c]

Census Bureau projections suggest that the population increase in this country over the next 30 years will be three to four times greater in immigrant communities than other sectors of our population. (ii)  Our determination to focus on this aspect of our life in community, however, is not driven solely or I would say even primarily by opportunities for future growth and evangelism, significant though that may be.  The fact is that already, now, from one end of our diocese to the other, we are a rich tapestry of Anglican-Episcopalians who worship in English, Spanish, Haitian Creole, Kiswahili, Dinka, Chinese and more.  We need to celebrate, claim and nurture this aspect of our identity.  For all the while we grieve the bitter ecclesiological divides in global Anglicanism, and try to find ways to bridge them, we have right here in eastern Massachusetts a microcosm of that Anglican Communion, with many bridges already built and much unity already to celebrate.

Time will not allow me to develop fully the many ways that I imagine this new position of canon for immigrant and multicultural ministries, starting next summer, can help us embrace more fully this rich aspect of our identity.  But the increased importance which immigration issues have assumed in our collective lives this past year is I think self-evident.  Some slippers are on fire, and this is one.

The third new position in a restructured staff will be a director of networking and training.  Those who were here 10 years ago describe a time when, for various reasons, most commissions and committees in our diocese not mandated by canon were discontinued.  In their place, leadership was delegated to staff members.  Subsequent changes in budgets or priorities have left many of these areas without coordinated leadership.  I want to suggest that our “de-staff-ification” of such leadership is not only a budgetary issue, but also a theological one.  The gifts for such ministry lie in every corner of our diocese, in every part of the Body which together we constitute.  

Our mission strategy named the desire to “connect and equip networks of lay people, clergy and staff members who share a passion for particular forms of service and public advocacy (such as feeding the hungry, supporting veterans, caring for elders, ending sex trafficking, eradicating gun violence or responding to addiction and substance abuse).” [Goal 5.b]  

Several such networks have been taking shape.  An emerging elder care network has proposed a resolution on today’s agenda, alongside another resolution by the long-established and vital network for creation care.  An essential network for Christian formation has been gathering as well, and will help inform the balance of duties for the new director of networking and training, who will start some time in the spring.

One day last week I awoke to my clock radio and sat bolt upright when I heard Joe Mathieu on WGBH interviewing our deacon from Trinity Episcopal Church in Wrentham, which Joe Mathieu named, blessedly, at least three times.  They were discussing the opiate addiction crisis, and Trinity's involvement in that matter.  And how grateful we are to have the church profiled as an agent of health in this crisis and others.  And we know there are many other congregations taking up this cross.  And support from the new director of networking and training will help them and other such networks to find one another and to be better equipped to labor together.


I want to say a word about another aspect of our mission strategy.  Goal 7.b committed us to “Entering into a large-scale, authentic and committed conversation about racism and other forms of oppression.”  The implementation team did not engage that as one of their first three goals this year, in part because several diocesan efforts are already underway.  To highlight just a few:

•    The Racial Reconciliation and Social Justice Team has continued to provide trainings for diocesan and parish groups with “Seeing the Face of God.”
•    Trinity, Boston invites all to the annual Bonnyman Symposium on matters of racial justice, this year (next weekend) exploring matters of inequity in health care.
•    The Mission Institute accompanies numerous congregations in making the spiritual commitment to the work of racial justice and reconciliation in their congregations.
•    The Beloved Community Team at St. Stephen’s, Lynn helped secure the Lynn police department’s participation in implicit bias training this year.
•    The Anti-Oppression Team of St. James's, Cambridge has invested in the creation of powerful liturgical experiences, including a unique Anti-Oppression Epiphany Service of Lessons and Carols, which will be shared for all here at our cathedral this year.
•    Church of Our Savior, Milton, was a key partner in launching townwide, interfaith Courageous Conversations for Racial Justice.

And many more.  These are just a few examples, and there will be many more as we continue to live into the commitment we have made to deepen and broaden our conversation and our action in this work of conversion of the heart.


I want to say a word about our budget, which is to say–one place where our treasure and heart are to be located.

The creation of the new positions that I described a moment ago of course necessitated the elimination of other positions.  This is never an easy process, and I am deeply grateful to every staff member for his or her grace and patience in this transition.  That process of restructuring was made more complex by the simultaneous need for staff reductions, necessitated by the change in the assessment formula.  The bulk of the approximately $400,000 reduction necessitated by that change came from staffing; a small portion also came from strategic ministry grants.  Details are in the budget presentation.
The assessment formula reduction was a direct, good-faith response to what we heard last year in the mission strategy process.  With many parishes facing their own budget reductions, our common resources need to be shepherded as carefully and responsibly as possible; and we’re all striving “to do more with less.”  The cuts made were thoughtful and prudent.  However, I must caution us against heading too far down a path that would hobble our capacity to maintain strong, commonly held resources and carry out together that which we cannot do alone.  We articulated a grand vision a year ago in our mission strategy.  We dreamed some big dreams, and embraced some cherished hopes.  Now will not be the time to un-dream those dreams just as we begin to stretch towards them.

This plea for a strong financial commitment to our common life is not something that I have come to just because I am bishop.  I understand that there can easily be the whiff of self-interest here.  So I want to tell you that seven years ago in the Diocese of Ohio a resolution came before us proposing a drastic reduction in parish assessments.  No parish in the diocese would have seen a larger windfall from the proposed reduction than the parish I then served.  In the wake of the economic crisis of 2008-09, we had made in the parish deep cuts to staff and programs.  We would have been thrilled to have that margin returned to us.  But I was compelled to rise at convention that year to oppose the new formula.

I opposed those proposed Ohio cuts because I believed that economic hard times are precisely the times when strong, shared resources are vital.  I believed that things like diocesan youth ministries, and facilities consultants, and resources for clergy wellness and investing in future leadership for the church–these things were essential.  I believed that it was a privilege and a calling for congregations like mine to help assure that such resources were accessible to congregations of every size.  

I opposed the proposed Ohio cuts because I felt certain that the reason we are Episcopalians and not Congregationalists is not just that we have a different take on mystery and sacraments, and love the rich liturgical tradition of Anglicanism–though we do.  I believed that we are episcopalian and not congregationalist in our polity because we find in that polity a theological affirmation of the complementarity and wholeness of the larger body.  I believed that Anglicanism’s historic affirmation of the diocese, and not the congregation, as the basic unit of the church is an expression of Saint Paul’s vision of the earthly body of Christ, made up of many parts.  

I believed all those things in 2010 as a parish priest, and I believe them in 2017 as your bishop.  These are the reasons we are committed to one another in heart and soul, and in treasure, too.  These are the ways that, as we heard a moment ago in the Epistle, we grow “into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, … promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.”  [Ephesians 4:15-16]   

You know about sin, right?  I mean, of course you know about sin.  We all do.  But you do know that sin is not really some list of naughty behaviors.  Sin, hamartia, “missing the mark”–is all about separation.  It's all about separation.  Our separation from God, and our separation from one another–even our separation from our own deepest, truest selves.  So when we promise–as we do again and again–to resist sin, we are promising to reconnect things, to reconnect people, to build up the body in love, to effect Christ’s reconciliation.

This is the common thread in everything we do as Church, as the body of Christ, this is the common thread:  reconciling reconnection.  This is what undergirds our mission strategy when we vow to belong more deeply to one another.  It undergirds the staff restructuring, which seeks to reconnect the center with the edges, and to reach across ethnic and cultural divides.  Reconciling reconnection is what commits us to creation care, lest we persist in separating ourselves from our own planet’s well-being.  It’s what commits us to justice in the face of racism’s tenacious, ugly sin.

Knitting the parts together.  Joining the ligaments.  Building up the body in love.  This is our work as agents of Christ’s reconciliation.  The work to which we rededicate ourselves.


The year behind us has been challenging, and from the perspective of our national and global lives, often disheartening, indeed, exhausting.  No doubt, those challenges will continue.  But I am perpetually buoyed and encouraged by the faithful and committed Christian people of this diocese.  In every corner, there is a spirit of devotion and delight, of servanthood and sacrifice.

Recently one of your colleagues brought to a meeting a piece written by Jonathan Daniels, the young seminarian from Cambridge and Keene, martyred in Alabama in 1965.  I've read a lot about Jonathan Daniels.  I'm not sure I had actually ever read anything that he'd written. The particular piece was published in the New Hampshire diocesan magazine two months before he died.  Here's what he wrote:

This is the stuff of which our life is made.  There are moments of great joy and moments of sorrow.  …There are good [people] here, just as there are bad [people.]  There are competent leaders, and a bungler here and there.  We have activists who risk their lives … We have neutralists who cautiously seek to calm troubled waters.  We have [those] about the work of reconciliation who are willing to reflect upon the cost and pay it.  Perhaps at one time or another, [we] are all of these.  

Sometimes we take to the streets, sometimes we yawn through interminable meetings. … Sometimes we confront a posse, and sometimes we hold a child.  Sometimes we stand with [those] who have learned to hate, and sometimes we must stand apart from them. …[But] through the bramble bush of doubt and fear and supposed success we are groping our way to the realization that above all else, we are called to be saints.  That is the mission of the Church everywhere.  And in this, Selma, Alabama, is like all the world: it needs the life and witness of militant saints. (iii)

So my friends, for All Saints Sunday tomorrow, for the days and months ahead, in our diocese and beyond, may we strive to be just such saints, in the reconciling reconnections of Christ.

And like the elephant child, together we sing:  "...there's not any reason, no, not the least, why I shouldn't be one too."

# # #

(i) Arnold Lobel, Fables (New York: Scholastic Inc., 1980), p. 32.
(ii) Anthony Guillen, “On New, Multicultural Ministries,” in Following the Way of Jesus, Michael Curry et al (New York: Church Publishing, 2017), p. 41.
(iii) Jonathan Myrick Daniels, “A Burning Bush,” in The New Hampshire Churchman: The Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of New Hampshire, June 1965, vol. XVII, No. 9.