“Learning is a sacred journey.” Bishop Duncan-Probe’s address to the 151st Diocesan Convention

In the video above, Bishop DeDe Duncan-Probe addresses the 151st Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York. The address was delivered at the opening of the Convention on Friday, November 8, 2019 at the Holiday Inn Convention Center in Liverpool, New York.


Come, Holy Spirit speak to us. Give us ears to hear you and courageous hearts to respond. Amen.

Well, I want to thank you. I’ll cry through this part, and we’ll get it out of the way. I’ll answer all the questions right now: no, we didn’t know. It was sudden that my mother passed away. Last year on November 2nd my father died, and I celebrated his funeral on Tuesday and then came and did Convention on Friday. This year—and interestingly, this is one of those God things—last year in August, I was asked to speak at a conference in Texas, and knowing my parents lived in Fort Worth, I said, “Well, I’ll go by and see my parents and then go to the conference.” Long before we knew about my father dying. And so the tickets I think were bought in like September last year. So because of that I got to spend two days with my mom, before she really started to decline. But then she kept hanging on and hanging on. And it was interesting, the palliative care nurses, everyone kept saying, “She shouldn’t be alive. There’s really no way of explaining this.” And it suddenly occurred to me that my father had died on November 2nd. My parents were that kind of couple. They loved each other fiercely. And when my father passed, I wasn’t sure how long my mom would make it. And it turns out she’ll make it exactly one year, one hour. Because she died on the same day, an hour after my father passed.

So I am very honored to be with you. I’m grateful for your prayers. When I see you passing in the hallway, it will completely overwhelm me to have all of you tell me that you love me and that you’re sorry for my loss. So I’m going to assume that you’re sorry for my loss.

[Member of congregation]: We do love you.

And I know you love me and I want you to… Thank you.

[Another member]: We love you as much as Peter does.

Oh, let the competition begin. You’re all my favorite clergy. Let’s just get that out of the way too.

For those who are watching this at home or playing along on the home version, we have one clergy who often claims to be my favorite, and so all the clergy are my favorite. I was a teacher before. You never have a favorite student. But anyway, my mother was a fourth grade teacher too, and she was very organized, which is why at a certain point I thought, you can just feel what she’s going to do.

So I’m very grateful for all your prayers and your love. I could feel it. And so next week I’ll be going back, and we’ll celebrate her memorial service next week, because this year I didn’t want to do that twice in a row.

But it is delightful to be with you in this important, important time in the Diocese. I also want to acknowledge that the Diocese has recently suffered a bit of a bump. Sometimes we hit a rock as it were, or a pothole. Here’s what I have to say about financial malfeasance in this Diocese:

We are responsible to God for what we do with the money that people give and the resources they give of their lives. Not just their money, but time and talent, people’s willingness to serve. We owe each person around us that which we talk about in our baptismal covenant: honor and respect.

Clergy should never be signatories on accounts. Vestries need to regularly meet. Annual meetings are important, and two signatures on everything is a mandatory thing above a certain amount. Cathy Hobart tells me $500, so I’ll go with what Cathy Hobart tells me about money every time. So anything $500 or more needs two signatories.

Someone said to me, “Well, we should do more training about this.” And I said, “Well do you think we should gather with maybe the clergy and wardens, and maybe have Wanda and Martha do a teaching on Safe Church practices about finances? And maybe everybody can talk about that.” And this person said, “That would be a great idea.” And I said, “Yes, like we did in March?”

All the training in the world isn’t enough. It takes each of us being stewards, and recognizing that the gifts people bring as their faithful offering to God are for God’s work. And so the Diocese, and that’s us, you and me, we are working very hard to one, be transparent because that’s one of our shared values we’ve stated. To tell the truth, to be compassionate, and to do the things necessary to heal and recover and move forward. And we’re doing all of those things.

I’m grateful for the chancellors, for Jonathan and Martha, who have been very faithful and done an amazing job of handling this situation with grace, faithfulness and real wisdom and professionalism. And I want to express my thanks to both of you in this time. So thank you. I’m grateful to our Canons, to Carrie and to John. There was a moment in this last four or five months where Carrie had a couple of tough weeks. It’s hard to be vilified. And she held her ground and was very faithful and served you and I well. And I want to thank both John and Carrie very much.

And you know about the staff. In the last three weeks it turns out a Bishop is completely unnecessary for planning a Convention. In fact, it might’ve been helpful I was out of the way. But the staff has been dedicated and diligent. At no time was I worried about anything, because I knew they were handling it. And that has been true with this situation as well.

And I want to really especially say my gratitude to Nancy Hartman and the leadership of St. Stephen’s, New Hartford. They have great character, and it’s been wonderful to see them both take stock of what should and could have been done, and to move forward faithfully with compassion, love, and integrity. And I want to thank you for that.

So with all of that said, you and I have good news, we need no longer worry about this situation. We can trust that it’s being handled. When there’s developments, I will be writing another letter to the Diocese, and I will let you know. If I haven’t written a letter, there’s no news. And so you can rest in knowing that this is being managed, because I have a charge for you. You don’t have time to worry about this, because we have a mission, vision and rule of life. To discern and implement. You have the Gospel of Jesus Christ as your charge. While we’re tending to the financial and legal issues in the Diocese, you are free and empowered and actually charged to focus entirely on the mission, vision and ministry of this diocese. To work tirelessly to love people, in truth.

The draft vision and mission statements, and the rule of life, came out of a moment with the board. When we were trying make decisions about how we were going to handle this or that situation. And in prayer, it occurred to me that we needed a shared understanding of how our ministry moves forward. What it is we value together. What it is we’ve committed to together, and how that informs our ministry. And so I invited the Diocesan Board, Standing Committee, staff, and representative voices from around the Diocese, to come together and to discern how the Diocese sees its ministry.

What’s on the table in that draft vision, I did not write. In fact, I didn’t even speak into this, my words. These are the words of the discernment team. And now you have an opportunity to be part. And now I invite you into the visioning process. Some of you already have gone to the website and added your revisions, some have already sent in your reflections. And please note, I know we all are good wordsmiths, we all love a good Oxford comma when we see one. Or at least I hope we do. But what I really hope you’ll do with the draft document is that you’ll see: what inspires you? What challenges you, and what’s missing? Where are you feeling God at work in this diocese, and what’s bubbling up for you?

It is a great joy and honor to be your bishop. It’s amazing to think that this is my fourth Convention. The first one, I was not consecrated. I’ve been here for three Conventions. This is the third. And look at what we’ve done and are doing together. The Learning Communities Initiative, which we’ll learn more about later. This vision and rule of life. The love and the companionship, the coming together for workshops, and the College for Congregational Development, and being engaged together. People entering discernment for the ministry. People putting their hand in the air and saying, “You know, I’ve always wanted to do a Bible study.” And feeling empowered to then go do it.

Each of us is part of what God is doing in this diocese, at this time, in this place. And if you, like some of us, have looked around at the world and thought, “Oh my goodness, we could really use Jesus right now. We could really use some good news.” When you fulfill your calling and open your heart to what God’s calling you to do. And when each of us engages together with a clear understanding that we are about the mission of Jesus Christ. We have good news to share with the world. And so I charge you to be about your mission and ministry, to be in discernment for how God is calling you to serve. To be in discernment about the ways in which you feel drawn, to share more fully the love of Jesus Christ in your life, at your parish, in your region, and in this diocese.

Our shared ministry together matters. It matters, because people within our church and outside of our church are longing for healing, and grace, and opportunity. I’m proud of people in our diocese, like Chol Majok, who’s been elected to serve in Syracuse, as the first refugee to hold that position. Someone who has shown himself in this diocese to be faithful. Tomorrow, we receive Diangdit Chapel as a mission chapel. That is good news for Syracuse, people.

And so I want to say to you, this is an important time, and this is a different structure for our Convention. Some of you may have thought, “Oh, I don’t know about the Eucharist thing.” But I’m telling you what we’re doing this weekend, I think it’s transformative for this diocese. I am delighted to share it with you. And I’m especially delighted that with all that’s going on, I feel the love of Jesus in this place with you. I find it inspiring, encouraging and empowering, and I hope you do as well.

Good, faithful people of Central New York. Let us love one another. Let us learn and understand that learning means mastery. When you’re teaching children long division, if they can’t do long division, they haven’t learned long division. If we are not loving God, one another and all God has created, we haven’t learned to love God, one another, and all God has created. Learning is a sacred journey. It means we’re humble enough to recognize we don’t know it all. It means we’re hungry enough to want to know more. And it means we’re dedicated enough to risk and be vulnerable, and to change our minds for the greater good of the world and one another.

So good people, this weekend as we engage in this work, I thank you for your love. I thank you for your prayers, and I charge you to be dedicated to your calling. God is calling you to be part of something. Together let us do this, that our world may indeed be healed by love. Thank you.

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