A Review of God’s Church Living in
Renewal, Reimagination and Resurrection
St. Luke’s Gospel 13: 6-9
Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So, he said to the gardener, “See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still, I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.”
The ethos or framework and fabric of the Jesus movement is fundamentally rooted and grounded in the reference of Jesus. The Church of Jesus founded by the Holy Spirit on Pentecost over 2000 years ago is undergirded by this promise of new life and new beginning – God never surrenders God’s Church. The essence of the resurrection narrative was justifiably celebrated by the early church as profoundly demonstrative of the power and authority of God to conquer evil with the promise of hope and renewal.
As I enter the seventh (7) year of my episcopate in the Diocese of Easton and eighteenth (18) year of my consecration as bishop in God’s One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, the diocesan staff and I have outlined a Review of God’s Church Living in Renewal, Reimagination and Resurrection of the ministry we dedicate our lives to serve.
In addition, on Saturday, March 25 the Diocesan Council, Standing Committee, Deans and Ministry Leaders met for a Retreat under the theme “Imaginative Leadership in Re-emergence and Resurrection: A Mission Imperative for the 21st Century Church”. Our guest speaker was the Right Reverend Dr. Sean Rowe, Diocesan Bishop of the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania and Provisional Bishop of Western New York. The designation that Bishop Rowe provided for our collective faith community was “Coalition of the Willing”. Participants affirmed the conviction to evidence of the Holy Spirit moving in this diocese and that the diocesan vision of Parousia is working as a vital experiment in the transformation of the diocese. (Proverbs 27:17). We committed to examine, over the year 2023, the three-prong process Bishop Rowe set before the diocese: OBSERVE – INTERPRET/EVALUATE – INTERVENE. We acknowledge that CHANGE incurs loss and with loss comes grief; grief which invariably is accompanied by resistance from the few that may be dedicated to the maintenance of the status quo. We also acknowledge that interventions are experiments and experiments are accompanied by some failures. Therefore, the cycle of the Change Process requires us to learn from what may not have gone well while also focusing on what the diocese has done well. With each season in the change process we are called to recalibrate until we reach the preferred outcome that is culturally and contextually, financially and pastorally sensitive to our diocesan way of being church.
The remainder of this document is an accounting of our collective efforts over the last six years as we as a diocese of over 7000 members forming the ‘coalition of the willing’ have endeavored to live into God’s vision for the church on the Eastern Shore. A vision I recommit to faithfully live into – especially as the Spirit calls us to live into new ways under a new and transformative narrative. Although there are sure to be points missed, I hope you will read it as intended… a celebration of the hard work of many of the over 7000 ‘saints’ of this diocese.
XI Bishop of Easton
A History of The Arrival of our Current Episcopate
Seven (7) years ago, the diocesan family on June 11, 2016, the Feast of St. Barnabas (one who encourages), overwhelmingly elected your incumbent bishop (by a vote of 34 (54) clergy and 69 (83) lay) as the eleventh Bishop of the Diocese of Easton. This represents a clear mandate from the Electoral Diocesan Convention. Although I came with some years of experience as bishop, twelve (12) years as an ordained and consecrated bishop; seven (7) of those served in two larger episcopal dioceses (East Carolina – 67 congregations & 165 clergy and Alabama – 90 congregations & 270 clergy), this vote was a demonstration of confidence in me. Equally, it evidenced a diocese inspired by God’s Spirit to call a person of color and a migrant to be your bishop and servant in God’s One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. By this very act, the Diocese showed a particular investment in pushing the diversity boundary of this Anglo-Centric Church. Conversely, this call with its ethnic ramifications came with inherent ‘risks’.
I received this news as a clear call from God, undergirded by the Holy Spirit, and so found myself heading to the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Personally, I entered this unprecedented challenge with enormous expectations as a faithful follower and priest of Jesus. These expectations were echoed by my peers at the House of Bishops. On the day of my election, bishops who knew of the challenges our diocese was facing including its struggle to discern a viable future as a free-standing diocese of the Episcopal Church, texted to congratulate and offer prayers for a fruitful ministry. I recalled several messages saying, “Easton chose well,” and “if there were anyone with the gifts, experience, pastoral sensitivity and care to lead the Diocese of Easton in a new direction, it would be you”. They were fully conversant with my seven-years of episcopal ministry in two (2) much larger and more complex episcopal dioceses (East Carolina and Alabama) with a combined membership of approximately 50,000 Episcopalians with over 400 clergy parochial and non-parochial. Although these messages did speak of high expectations, they also demonstrated an enormous amount of goodwill, prayers, and a show of confidence from a House of Bishops in which I had been a member for seven years (2010-2016) and as of 2023, thirteen years.
My first response to all of this was to pray the prayer of gratitude and to remember that ultimately Jesus is the Lord of his church. I followed with my prayer of contrition (which I pray every day) that God would bless my ministry and that I would remain God’s devout, faithful, and committed servant.
I also recalled the words I prayed at 3:30 a.m. on February 19, 2005, when the Diocese of Seychelles elected me its 3rd Bishop, “Lord you are calling me to a strange land among a people of strange tongue (spirit of Isaiah 28:11-12) protect and shield your servant, not so much from the elements of opposing forces, for that the ‘risk’ that comes with following you as you yourself demonstrated in your ministry, but with the strength and fortitude to bear the cross that comes with this call. This is your church to protect, reform and reimagine. Let me always keep in mind your words to brother Paul, “my grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness … for whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (II Corinthians 12: 9-10). Beloved, I have lived and served this diocese over the last six years in the arms of Jesus’ reassuring presence. And I am confident, Jesus will continue to embrace all of us in our work in the diocese.
And so, with unwavering confidence and trust in Jesus, and equipped with the result of the pioneering work done by the diocese over a two-year discernment (2014-2015) as your servant and bishop rededicated my life, energy, and passion to give our diocese my optimum devotion. Faithfully, I hope and pray that to date, I have done exactly what I committed and pledged to do at my investiture on October 15, 2016, Feast of St. Teresa of Avila. My fundamental ministry’s imperative is informed and directed by the three P(s) – Passion for Jesus and his church, Purpose (mission) that Jesus has for my life when I was converted 50 years ago from Hinduism to Christianity and was formed to be his global missionary, and Progress (Jesus’ Great Commission, Matthew 28:19-20).
A Review of Four (4) Years of Change Process (January 2017- December 2020)
The accountability of my sixth-year stewardship as bishop in collaboration with approximately over 7000 of the “Collation of the Willing”. This exercise was informed by a series of resolutions approved by the 147th Annual Diocesan Convention (2015) under the Right Rev. Henry N. Parsley, Bishop Provisional. This was eventually complemented by a Diocesan Ten-Year Vision- PAROUSIA – GOD VISION FOR GOD’S ON THE EASTERN SHORE OF MARYLAND. The vision of PAROUSIA was approved by the 151st Annual Diocesan Convention (2019) and reaffirmed by the 152nd Annual Diocesan Convention (2020).
The journey from the resolutions in 2015 to the vision of Parousia in 2019 has been marked by a change in posture. Early in the journey, the diocese had a posture of expectancy which has slowly but surely transitioned into a posture of action (Habakkuk 2:3-4). Another way to describe this shift is to say that before we were “waiting and hoping” whereas now we are “moving and shaking”. Much like a ship that has lifted anchor from the relative safety of its moored position and is risking adventure by launching out in open treacherous waters.
Below are the bullet points of some moments in this journey – beginning from my arrival until now. Following that are significant ministry and mission projects that the Diocese has celebrated over the same period of time.
- 100-Day Diocesan wide pilgrimage to visit all parishes getting to know the heartbeat of each congregation’s hopes, challenges, anxieties, and expectations; face to face meeting with the family members. One major concern was repeatedly voiced across the diocese by the lay members – the future of their parishes and diocese. It was one of the best decisions I made, a decision that offered helpful insights into the amount of love and affection lay and church have for their church. It gave members a forum to express their anxiety and fear, hopes and aspirations that are associated with something you love yet uncertain of its future.
- Church with a Clear Vision – 150th Diocesan Convention approved a vision worked on by lay and clergy leadership 2017 – 2018 (Wye Mills Report)
- Diocesan Identity: PRAYER CENTERED CHURCH + MISSION-SHAPED DIOCESE. This identity acknowledges that our baptismal call points us to see ourselves as a church mandated to live and serve the Mission of God (Missio Dei).
- Diocesan Purpose – “Welcome All. Share Jesus’ Love. Serve the World”. This concise and memorable phrase embodies our call as a collective Church.
- Ministry Imperatives – These ten imperatives took the earlier discernment resolutions and identified ten areas for Diocesan engagement.
- The Parousia document, God’s Vision for the Church, a work in progress, was presented and approved at the 2019 Convention.
- Updates on the progress of the points outlined in this Parousia document were received prior to the 2020 Convention (Part I and Part II)
- The pursual of the Parousia vision has continued, albeit with some interruption due to the Pandemic. Pandemic response initiatives are worked into the vision for the Diocese including a more robust online presence and zoom community.
Even as we were casting and honing this vision, we were also engaging in it. There are many significant and important “wins” that the Diocese has celebrated over the past years. I am honored and humbled to work alongside a vibrant college of clergy and dedicated laity – it is all of us, together, who have achieved so much:
Supporting Parish Ministry
Parishes in the diocese continue to expand their missional presence in their local, national, and global communities. Parishes can collaborate or look to each other for examples of ways to engage more fully in their partnership with the local communities. The Diocesan office has served as a resource for expanding these ministries and/or helping churches network. Some of this assistance includes relieving administrative burdens to free up more time for local ministry.
- Wardens & Treasurer’s Conference
- Safeguarding God’s Children
- Clergy Conference / Clericus
- Free Zoom Pro Account in 2020
- Support to parishes’ application for Payment Protection Program (PPP)
- Online Giving Link Option
- Access to Financial and Legal Support
- Ignite the Way / Invite, Welcome, Connect Discipleship and Evangelism Program
- Youth Ministry Walk-Alongs
- Administrators Conference
- Raising up and resourcing new leadership in lay and ordained order
- Transition to a One-Day Diocesan Convention – Saving Money (50K across the Diocese)
Membership Stability – the 2019 Statistical Report for the diocese released by the Episcopal Church shows the Diocese of Easton is holding steady. The 2019 report could be the last accurate report before the global COVID pandemic of 2020. This stability in our statistical Report is a result of the Holy Spirit’s guidance and the dedicated ministry and leadership of clergy and lay. We will continue to focus on maintaining stability while looking toward growth and renewal.
- The 151st Annual Diocesan Convention received our first Latino Church, La Iglesia de la Sagrada Familia de Jesus, Shrewsbury Parish, integrate congregation of Anglo and Latino/Hispanic at St. Clement’s Parish, Massey. Positive signs in this ministry are emerging in the Southern Convocation. Christ Church, Denton, has its members Latino/ Hispanic families.
- The Diocesan Diversity Awareness Commission was formed, to focus on healing across divides. This includes human disparities across class, creeds, color, ethnicities, culture, gender, and disabilities in the Pauline motif of we are all made in the image and likeness of God, imago Dei (Genesis 1:27), and Paul’s cosmological or world view description, “from one ancestor (blood) God made all the nations to inhabit the whole earth” (Acts 17:26).
- The Diversity Awareness Commission, Retreat House, Camp Wright, and the Difference Partnership are engaged in pioneering initiatives to make us better ambassadors of Christ to our marginalized brothers and sisters. We have become extremely intentional about our welcome, evangelism and discipleship among LGBTQ, people of color and those with special needs. Parishes have also continued to expand their ministry among seniors (over 60) and this area of our membership has been given priority in the Diocesan Ten Ministry Imperatives Focus.
- Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and fellow bishops from The Episcopal Church (TEC) and the Anglican Communion joined us for the closing worship celebration of our 150th Anniversary as a free-standing diocese of TEC. It was a joyful and celebratory occasion that was attended by over 1,000 people and received significant local news coverage.
- The closing worship celebration was the culmination of a year of 150th anniversary events – that together reminded us of how much we must thank God for and how much our ministry has defined life on the eastern shore. These events included:
- The Founder’s Day march and graveside tribute to our first Bishops
- The Eucharist of Reconciliation and Conversations on Race at the Underground Railroad National Historical Park in Church Creek, Maryland
- Gathering Hope Harvest Festival at Camp Wright celebrating ministry across generations
- The 150 Love Challenge invited parishes to get creative with 150 ways to show love in their community. Stories ranged from cleaning 150 gravestones to collecting 150 days of diapers to sponsoring 150 loads of free laundry.
- The Evangelism and Discipleship Conference – Ignite the Way, was a tangible demonstration of the intentional focus and direction of the diocese toward a program of formation and nurturing evangelists and discipleship for the mission of God. The Conference included several additional opportunities throughout the year prior and the year following the Conference to engage this work.
- Production of a 150th Anniversary Souvenir Booklet highlighted our Diocese, including colorful spreads showing the unique ministries of each of our 40+ worshipping communities. This booklet, paid for entirely through advertising partners and friends, has proven to be a great tool for sharing about the mission and scope of our Diocese. All our congregations came together to supply pictures and information on their parishes.
- What the 150th Celebration revealed was that we have so much more going for us than against us. We were inspired anew to ‘buckle down’, ‘tighten our boots straps’, support one another and our collective work, be confident and trust the future and, ‘keep our eyes on the prize’; in conformity with the spirit of Philippians 3: 1-16.
Clergy & Lay Leader Development
- Bishop’s Institute for Leadership and Ministry Formation: One of our primary calls as a Diocese is to teach, educate and train lay leadership. Dioceses that have made this component central to their organizational life have a designated center out of which they can effectively engage this pedagogical work. The Diocese thanks St. Paul’s Episcopal Chapel (SPEC), Hebron, for generously offering both a site and funding for the ministry of the institute. Dee Reinhart is leading this critical ministry and we thank God for her witness and passion in this area of diocesan life. Many of our educational offerings, including Safeguarding, Eucharistic Visitor Training, Wardens & Treasurers Conference, Administrators Conference, Difference Course, etc. will ultimately fall under the umbrella of the Bishop’s Institute.
- Diocese of Easton School for Diaconal Formation under the leadership of its dean, The Rev. Canon Dr. Dan Dunlap supported by the Rev. Deacon Loretta Collins, Coordinator, along with faculty members made up of clergy from our diocese should be commended for forming and nurturing nine (9) deacon postulants, eight (8) were ordained over the course of the last two months and joined the ranks of clergy in the diocese. They are currently serving parishes across the diocese.
- Clericus & Clergy Conference/Retreat: The Bishop’s office has been organizing monthly zoom events for the clergy of the Diocese as a modified version of “Clericus”, historically a meeting of diocesan clergy for worship, fellowship, and continuing education. The zoom calls have allowed us to invite more varied presenters including Lorenzo Lebrija (TryTank), Catherine Meeks (Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing) and Presiding Bishop Michael Curry just to name a few. Additionally, the office has added the Clergy Conference/Retreat to its annual calendar since 2017 – giving our deacons and priests some time away for both respite and study. The Advent Clergy Retreat, December 1-2, led by The Right Rev. Peter Price, retired Bishop of Bath and Wells, Church of England supplemented the Annual Clergy Conference usually held in May.
- Retreat House at Hillsboro The amazing staff and volunteers who support the Retreat House have been busy presenting a myriad of opportunities for education, renewal, and refreshment. It is a testament to their passion and drive to see how the Retreat House has grown in scope and scale over four years.
- Iona Initiative The Seminary of the Southwest’s Iona collaborative allows the formation and training of leaders who have a call to ordained ministry but, due to other life commitments such as family needs, financial obligations and committed employment situations, may not be able to fulfill a full-time academic study program at a 3-year residential seminary. The diocese is anticipating joining this program in June 2021 and is accepting applications. We are praying for the Holy Spirit to move in a powerful way in the hearts of God’s people calling them to vocational life as priest or deacon.
- Diocesan Financial Stability: The Diocesan Finance Committee continues to do a remarkable job in stabilizing our finances. The auditors have reported to Diocesan Council that the diocese’s finance is in a healthy state while there is more to be done to maintain growth and sustainability for future ministries. While the diocese is in a much heathier financial place than four years ago, it needs to continue to maintain its current trajectory. The diocese will continue the path of fiscal accountability by incorporating appropriate austerity measures. The diocesan finance team commits to ensuring the mission and ministry of God’s church remains robust and relevant to the times.
- Board of Managers Easton Episcopal Funds have 30 shareholders with a combined portfolio of over 30 million dollars managed by the Board of Manager elected by Diocesan Convention. The BOM is a team of committed and dedicated Episcopalians that diligently oversees the investment portfolio on a daily basis. I have been extremely impressed with their knowledge of the stock market and skillful repertoire in investment to act as good stewards of God’s sacred resources for God’s beloved church.
Children, Youth & Family Ministry
- Camp Wright continues to be a major factor in the healthy social and spiritual development of young people in our churches and communities. We are proud of the work they are doing under the astute leadership of Julia Connolly Zahn, Director. In addition to summer camp, Camp Wright has expanded their year-round programming to include other special events including Silver Camp, Christmas at Camp, and the Harvest Festival. They also provide off-season rentals to help make camp as affordable as possible while still maintaining a zero-deficit budget. Camp Wright is an amazing ministry of which we should all be proud.
- Camp Agape continues to offer a free Camp experience (and Christmas party) for children with incarcerated relatives/parents. With almost 40 children currently on the roster, the Agape Committee has shown creative resilience during Covid to keep them connected. Not only by providing a “Camp in a Box” mail-home package but also a week of zoom camp (they will mirror this for Christmas with a mail-home package and Zoom party).
- Three major youth events are sponsored by the Diocese annually, including the Winter Rally, the Spring Youth @ Convention (which will now shift to Camp Wright as a Youth Summit), and the Summer Mission/Episcopal Youth Event (Costa Rica ‘16, EYE ‘17, Niagara ‘18, Peru ‘19). The Diocese has been able to offer scholarship funding for youth thanks to a massive Summer fundraising effort, the annual Amazing Race.
- The Youth Missioner (Joanne Fisher) has been serving at the Provincial level as the Co-Chair for Youth Ministry for the past several years. Through this ministry we played a significant role in developing the Trail 2 Truth Racial Reconciliation Pilgrimage for high school students which has now become a Province-funded biannual event. Through this partnership, we have also organized free monthly zoom formation summits and are able to offer significantly discounted tickets to the 2021 Forma Conference this coming January.
- We have begun the work of developing a more robust Network of “Children, Youth & Family Champions” in the Diocese – representatives from each church who are passionate about sharing the gospel with young people. We hope to continue to encourage and equip these leaders through quarterly gatherings and one-to-one mentoring.
- We also hope to make a non-stipendiary appointment of a Diocesan Sunday School Coordinator to take responsibility for gathering Church School educators for training and collegial work.
Major Organizational Ministry Trends:
- Worshiping Communities/Clergy Deployment The diocese comprises of 41 worshiping communities including our first Latino Congregation – La Sagrada Familia de Jesus (Holy Family of Jesus), worshiping at Shrewsbury Parish, Kennedyville. Over the past four years 10 clergy left the diocese for a variety of reasons including retirement, relocations, family obligations, and health requirements. Six clergy and eight deacons joined the Diocese. The diocese also has two seminarians in the process. One parish partnered with another to share pastoral presence; we currently have two parishes using this parochial model, a model that is becoming increasingly prevalent in the wider Episcopal Church. Over the four years, I have spent much time reassuring our small churches, comprising one-half of the parishes, that they have an advocate in their bishop.
- Annual Diocesan Convention The diocese made a strategic move in 2020 to shift from a multi-day convention in a hotel to a one-day convention hosted by a convocation/parish. This conscientious decision reduced the cost of hosting the convention by over 50K annually. The time may come, depending on the increase in delegates and parochial growth, to revisit this decision. When this happens, it will be a positive/happy dilemma to engage.
- ACS Database The Diocese has made a major shift from individual spreadsheets of contact information to a cloud-based database through ACS. This has enabled us to streamline our communications and take a more trusted and targeted approach in our mailings. Some specific advantages include online giving and text-to-give, online event registration that includes the transfer of contact information directly into our database, ability for churches to update their own staff information in real time, seamless connection with a mass email option (Constant Contact) for the e-news and other large mailings, a downloadable app (Churchlife) for clergy/leaders to access contact information on-the-go.
Structural Review, Strategic Planning and Resource Development
It is obvious that the Christ-like change management in our episcopal polity is defined by what I would to term ‘the Jesus Caveat’, “you cannot put old wine in new wine skin…” (Matthew 9:17). The resulting disconnect will cause unintended fracture within the system, because the present system wasn’t designed to tolerate drastic change, it is designed to implicitly rebel and tear asunder the new and evolving direction. The crucifixion of Jesus is Christianity’s signpost for what happens when God dares to challenge entrenched archetypal stereotypes. However, like it or not the Holy Spirit constantly moves in the destabilize entrenched institutionalism. It was the church of the day where revered religious leaders condemned and executed our Savior. Historically, churches in every age, sadly so, continue to do so when they feel threatened by fundamental changes that are designed to redeem the failing system. As a redemptive people of Jesus, one of our basic tasks is to redeem the past status quo to speak to the present reality in order that it is transformed for the future.
Status quo continues to persist because the familiar is trusted as normal, but as Bishop Sean Rowe, Bishop of Northwestern Pennsylvania and Provisional Bishop of Western New York reminded diocesan clergy when he presented on Adaptive Leadership “normal is the past not the future”. It is relegated to the realm of nostalgia; nostalgia is a static phenomenon; it isn’t organic nor life-giving.
- The Constitution and Canons Review Task Force the Constitution and Canons Review Task Force mandate was to conduct a comprehensive review of our Diocesan Constitution and Canons in order to bring them in line with the ministry reality of the reimagined episcopal church’s direction. I fully endorse its work under the extremely knowledgeable and meticulous leadership of Dr. Lynn McClain, Professor of Evidence Law, University of Baltimore, and cradle episcopalian at Emmanuel Parish, Chestertown. The consultant to this project is Mr. David Boot Beers, veteran of Canon Law who served bishops in the Diocese of Washington and for 30 years as Chancellor to several Presiding Bishops. There are also two retired diocesan chancellors on the review committee. When the Task Force is ready to present their work, the diocesan family will have the opportunity to engage the conversation and review their findings.
- Diocesan Financial Sustainability Task Force the Diocesan Financial Sustainability Task Force, a group of some of the most knowledgeable, influential, wise and devoted saints in this diocese is working on developing a robust financial plan to move us into the future. This includes investigating a pool of donors called to share the much-needed funds to support our vision and capital projects. These projects include many of those already mentioned in this document, including Camp Wright, the Bray House (Diocesan Office), Christian Formation Initiatives (education, discipleship and evangelism training for all ages), Latino Ministry, accessible and affordable Clergy formation and training, lay leader and church staff formation and training, and bolstering outreach and community partnerships (with particular support for the 10 plus years of Food Ministry at St. Andrew’s Church, Hurlock). These are ambitious programs, but they can be addressed with directed funding which the diocese at present doesn’t possess. In my global ministry I have one very important refrain, ‘a church that fails to plan, plans to fail’. Every church is expected to take some vision to God so God has something to work with, “give us today our daily bread” (Luke 11:3). The DFSTF is a group of dedicated servants of the diocese working toward resourcing new ministry initiatives in a 21st century church. The task force recently conducted a diocesan wide survey of clergy and lay leadership. The office is planning a zoom forum of diocesan leadership including parochial clergy and lay in various leadership roles across the diocese early next month. The Task Force will report its findings and help us chart a course to execute these findings in pursuit of this vision. More information will be forthcoming.
It is obvious; the Holy Spirit is leading a renewed life in the Diocese of Easton and God’s people are energized and reinvigorated by the demonstration of this new movement. I am especially thankful for the leadership role offered by the Diocesan Council, Diocesan Standing Committee, Commission on Ministry, Diocesan Finance Committee and other committees, council, boards, task forces and commissions of this church. The clergy and lay have led the way in forging this new spirit of Hope, Revival, Renewal and Regeneration over the past four years. In my experience, God’s most meaningful and lasting restoration work comes when the people who are likely to be the direct beneficiaries of God’s grace draw alongside and walk the ‘pilgrim’s journey of faith’. As such, gratitude and appreciation are extended to the faithful of the diocese for your remarkably devoted life and commitment dedicated toward a redressing of our former state of being God’s church on the eastern shore of Maryland. I wholeheartedly endorse the ministry and determination of our faith community and pledge my unequivocal allegiance to Jesus as his friend and servant and servant of his church here on Maryland’s eastern shore.
Everyone, clergy and lay, is encouraged to join the revival. Each has a contribution to make, and all are major advocates in this movement to revitalize our diocese. Join the movement and be an agent of HOPE, CHANGE and REDEMPTION. Come be part of a new thing God is doing in the spirit and metaphor of the Isaiah vision (65:17), “For I am about to create new heavens and new earth…” resonated in Revelation (21:5). “See I am making all things new”.
On a personal note, I wish to again address my life changing illness in June 2017, that resulted in my physical incapacity for over a year. The diocese was denied the full pastoral service of their bishop at a critical time when his presence and service were vital. It was an episode in my life’s journey that I did not plan on, but for which fate had a different plan. Nevertheless, through faith in God, I have come a long way from where I was in the middle of 2017. I am confident that through our communal work, through personal discipline and determination, and with my wife Lynn beside me, we have recouped those months and are on the fast-track to realizing our collective vision. I once again thank my brothers and sisters who carried out the ministry in my absence and to our diocesan family for its prayers and patience.
I thank most especially my staff. I believe it is one the best Bishop’s Office staff among small dioceses. We are three full-time, two half-time holding dual positions and two very half-time. They do great work for God’s church. We have developed a remarkable synergy and team-spirit over the four years, and I thank God for the movement of the Spirit in the ministries we serve.
The COVID-19 Pandemic is having an enormous effect on the lives of everyone, not the least our individual family and loved ones. We justifiably are unable to predict what will happen except to hope and pray for a safer and predictable resolution soon that will allow us some semblance of normalcy. While as a diocese, it is difficult to predict what to foresee in the new year, we should be confident and bold in continuing to plan and hope for the best. In the meantime, we should be grateful that God has positioned the diocese to continue in this good work. The diocese will remain optimistic in its future and thankful for the faithful that continue to labor on the frontline of ministry doing their very best under these circumstances. I wish to express my appreciation for all the faithful clergy and lay for their resilience, diligence, and labor of love in helping to sustain the kingdom of God on earth as in heaven. God’ Church on the eastern shore is poised to continue to demonstrate effectiveness, efficiency, and empowerment as we move into a post-COVID church.
A Review of the Years 2021-March 2023
While acknowledging the challenging impacts posed by the continuation of COVID 19 and accompanied variants, the diocese remained focused and intentionally dedicated to the task of maintaining a healthy and safe church. Health and safety became the primary goal of the diocese and maintaining safe zones ensured that the ministry advanced, albeit, in a curtailed manner. In-person gatherings were restricted as per the State of Maryland’s directives. This was without a doubt a time for vital emergency leadership when many of the protocols of good governance were suspended across the secular and church spectrum in deference to emergency protocols.
Added to this state of uncertainty was the volatility in the stock market. Credit is given to the Board of Managers for effectively and efficiently monitoring the portfolio of the Easton Episcopal Fund.
The finance of the parishes has remained hopeful and steady due to the faithful commitment of our clergy and parishioners and skillful, knowledgeable versatile finance professionals entrusted with the responsibility of doing that important task.
The auditors’ comments have continued to be encouraging. In their report in 2022 for the audited year 2021, they have given the diocese, “an unmodified opinion” which according to accounting parlance is ‘the highest opinion in the business’.
These are difficult years that test the mettle of effective leadership, we are in a state of constant flux where compassion and mercy should be exercised towards everyone. We are all tired and understandably feeling a ‘sense of burn out’ and in need of renewal and reinvigoration.
Throughout the two plus years of varying Covid restrictions, the various ministries of the diocese utilized the Virtual Platforms to conduct training, meetings, worship, community life and connectivity. What was remarkable and noteworthy over the years of the surge and manageable period of the pandemic the diocese and its parishes never wavered or reneged on its call to serve the faithful of this church. Clergy and lay leaders were relentless in their commitment to the task and dedicated toward fulfilling and responding in a timely manner to the needs of the community. If I would say so myself, the global COVID 19 pandemic brought the best out of everyone, and our ‘better angle’ was on full display.
Here is breakdown of the ministry of this church in 2021- 2023 to-date:
- Continue to dedicate the diocese toward a resurrection-based church
- Continue to offer a healthy and safe church atmosphere across the diocese
- Witness an enthusiasm for mission and ministry
- Focus on discipleship, evangelism, care for creation, diminishing of suffering and covert and overt support for social justice
- Expand the Role of the Convocation Deans
- Appoint a Diocesan Hispanic/Latino Missioner (part-time)
- Grow Hispanic/Latino membership and presence in churches across the three convocations
- Raise up seminarians and provide deployment so the diocese is reassured of continued clergy leadership from within
- Attract new clergy from beyond the diocese
- Local clergy formation for bi-vocational ministry through IONA Collaborative in conjunction with the Seminary of the Southwest, Austin, Texas
- All parishes have clergy leadership. This is possibly the first time in a very long time that this development was witnessed
- Witness seeds of growth
- Financial stability was and is maintained complemented by frugal and austere measures ensuring sustainability
- A 10% reduction on the 2021 diocesan apportionment was offered to every parish to support parish sustainability during the COVID 19 pandemic; a savings of approximately 100K across the parishes of the diocese
- Small and rural churches understand they are supported and ministered to. There is energy and optimism witnessed among the rural and small churches
- Focus on children and family and young people, “rising generations”
- Camp Wright continues to be a vital ministry center and its future continues to be reassured
- Lay training has a center equipped and trained for lay leadership formation and support
- REPORT ON Bishop’s Institute
- Feeding ministry conducted by many churches across the diocese
- Seeking to repurpose some diocesan facilities
- Comprehensive review of Diocesan Constitution and Canons reflecting 21st Century standard. It was a four-year project involving a dedicated, versatile, knowledgeable highly-skilled and qualified lay, clergy and legal professionals. This project was approved by the 155th Annual Diocesan Convention and is the first time in its 155 year history that this type of initiative was attempted and completed. What was more commendable and noteworthy was that both the Task Force and Constitution and Canons Committee did their work while navigating a global pandemic
Thank God, by grace and mercy with the invaluable contribution of science and technology and the disciplined attentiveness of an informed population, the diocese is gradually reemerging. It is doing so confident in the faithfulness of the people of God and leadership of both lay and clergy. God’s vision of PAROUSIA is a work in progress and from all indications has transformed the diocese for the better. The leadership – Diocesan Council, Standing Committee, Convocation Deans and Ministry Leaders gathered in its annual retreat to reflect on the focus going forward on March 25. At this gathering, the leadership dedicated the remainder of the year 2023 to conduct the interpretative work as preparation to engage the next phase of Parousia.
My prayer is that our Diocese of Easton Family will continue to grow in grace and love as God’s beloved church on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Let me pledge and commit to build on the foundation Jesus laid and continues to energize, and upon the sacrifices and dedication of our past forebearers who left us this wholesome legacy.
The healthy and faithful work of the Standing Committee, Diocesan Council and other councils and committees of the diocese in these crucial years of redevelopment and reimagination should never be underestimated. The Diocese of Easton is positioned to emerge out of the pandemic more confident of its future because of the robust, resilient, creative and adaptive ministries it is engaging in.
This is a sampling of comparatively similar sized dioceses. While this commentary on the episcopal presence in the USA may seem discouraging, the Diocese of Easton should take some solace at the thought that many of our colleague dioceses are undergoing the same challenges. We like them should continue to persevere and live into God’s dream for this “little gem” on the eastern shore of Maryland. We are planted on this shore for a reason. Let us commit to that dream to be a faithful and enduring presence pointing all to Christ, the shepherd and pioneer of our faith! The Diocese of Easton has been proactive living into a vision that has shown encouraging signs of leading diocesan transformation emboldened by a new narrative.
And so, I end with a refrain that I have used and which I witnessed confirmed by Jesus all through my global ministry:
‘A risen Savior is incompatible with a dying church’.
“…On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16: 18).
“…forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. Only let us hold fast to what we have attained” (Philippians 3: 13-16).
The Right Reverend Santosh K. Marray, D. Min; D.D
XI Bishop of Easton