Bishop DeDe Duncan-Probe’s address to the 153rd Convention of the Diocese of Central New York challenges the Church to show forth God’s love in our response to climate change, racism, and partisanship.
At this time, it is my privilege to address you about the state of the Diocese. I want to offer my gratitude to each of you, especially for the ways you have helped and supported one another in the past year.
There’s no doubt that we are in a challenging time. Our Convention theme, “Emerging in God’s Love,” sounds very aspirational, for good reason. We are emerging. We are moving from one space to another; we are going out. And of course, many people don’t feel like going out at all right now. There’s a sense of weariness and fatigue. And so this Convention is, as much as it can be, a retreat: a time for soulful and intentional reflection together. A time to be reminded that we’re called together by God for the work and the life of the kingdom of God.
I am asked all the time: Is there a future for the Church? Is there hope for the Church?
And I will say, very positively, yes. There’s great hope.
Now, the future of the Church is not something we can know definitively. In fact, I think our desire to know has really handicapped us. We’re so busy trying to know the answers that we’ve forgotten to make space for God’s presence in us to fill us and move us. Life with God is not about knowing the future, it is about stepping out in faith.
Over this past year we have done a lot of stepping out in faith. Through Speak Faith, our new formation program, we’ve learned about God and how to talk to others about God. We’ve had book studies and deep conversations about antiracism, and we’ve begun to do the necessary work to address systemic inequalities.
And we have argued, of course. Some arguments have brought us to deeper understanding, others have forced us apart as we’ve gotten lost in the divisions within and around us.
This theme, “Emerging in God’s Love,” tells us that we know what we’re supposed to be about. We’re supposed to be about love. And what does love mean, in this time of hurt and anguish? Love is more than a “a fancy or a feeling,” the poet Hartley Coleridge would tell us. Love is more than a lofty idea or a vague hope. Love is a person on a cross: Our Savior, offering himself. Love is one spouse caring for another, a parent caring for a child, a friend caring for a loved one. Love means each of us has an opportunity to be part of what God is doing.
So as we emerge in God’s love we’re emerging with a message of hope, with willing hearts to serve God. And we’ll find that, in serving God, we discover God at work amongst us.
Now I am going to do something I feel certain I will fail at doing. But I’m going to do it anyway. Already the sound quality wasn’t great when we sang, earlier, so perfection is not on the menu. And I would say that if we’re looking for perfection, that’s not our calling. We’re called to faithfulness, not perfection.[Shares screen, Slide #1] This last year we talked a lot about antiracism. This year, we’re going to continue that conversation as we focus on climate care. Now, notice I say climate care. There’s been a lot of energy spent on disagreeing about the causes of climate change, or whether or not climate change is happening. These disagreements are not what matters. As followers of Jesus, we know the most important thing is to be faithful people who are offering love and comfort to this world.
This is an image of a young girl in India after a flood, going back home, and leaping across water that’s filled with all sorts of things.[Slide #2] A young boy in Bolivia outside his home. [Slide #3] Children in Argentina getting water from a polluted river. [Slide #4] These pictures are my own, or one of them is: the one on the left with the red line is where this glacier was in 2000, and you can see the sign marking the glacier’s edge in 2005, and on the right you can see that it has continued to diminish, even in two years. [Slide #5] The woman on the left in this picture, Delmira de Jesus Cortez Barrera, she’s from a family in El Salvador. Her family was a family of sustainable farmers, they were making their livelihood. But then they experienced flood, drought, and famine. And she now lives in San Salvador and works at a pupusa shop. She makes $200 a month, she pays $65 in rent, and sends $95 back to her family. And it’s getting worse, and more challenging, as many of you know, in our sister Diocese of El Salvador. [Slide #6] This is a family in Guatemala. This farmer farms corn, and he’s tried soy. And again there is flooding and then drought, and you can see that his corn crop has failed. [Slide #7] It is estimated that by 2070 the world’s corn production will diminish by as much as 40% in the places that are red, by 30% in those where it’s orange. These are livelihoods, people living. [Slide #8] Now what does that have do with us here in Central New York? Here you see images of a fire in Oregon and a fire in California. And in the middle is this image from NASA that shows the vertical integrated smoke, meaning the smoke that’s blowing. If you remember those days this past summer when the air was hazy and red, this is why. The smoke from the fires in Oregon and California was in our air, causing problems for our breathing. [Slide #9] Stagnant air, meaning particulates held closer to the ground where they cause more respiratory illness, has increased by 15% since 1973. That is our current air. [Slide #10] And then there’s a study from the University of Albany that I found interesting. It took me a little while to learn how to read this map. If you see at the top, the gray part is what the weather was like in 1961-1990, which is basically your real Central New York weather: those good snowy winters, those short springs. But now you can see that in 2010-2039 it’s expected that our weather’s a bit more like Pennsylvania or moving down to southern Pennsylvania. By 2040 it will move even further south as if our weather by 2070 were the weather of South Carolina or Georgia. And just in case you’re wondering, it doesn’t mean we won’t have snow. We’ll have snow when the polar vortex comes in, so there’ll be huge vacillations between deep snow and very warm, humid summers.
So what does this have to do with the Gospel of Jesus? And what does this have to do with our work as a Diocese? Everything, everything.
Our call as people of Jesus is to love God, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Our mission statement as a Diocese is still one of the things I’m most proud of, because it shows our vulnerability and our resiliency and our willingness to learn. Our mission statement is that we’re “Learning to love God, one another, and all God’s creation.”
Again, this is not about whether we agree or disagree. This is about recognizing that something is happening that is harming other people. Something is happening, and the images you saw were not from the future, but from the past. Change is already happening. People are already hurting. So whatever we think the changes are about, the point is: how are we to live with our neighbors and love our neighbors in this time?
In this time, partisanship is driving so many of us apart. So in the Diocese of Central New York we’ve done a lot of good work over this last year: having conversations, creating space, learning new skills.
Some of us are seeing reduced numbers in church and we’re wondering: what will church be like? Who will come back, who will go, and how do we proclaim the Gospel of Jesus?
The Good News of the Gospel of Jesus is always relevant, is always important. One of the ways we proclaim the Gospel of Jesus is in caring for one another. If we’re hurting, we’re invited to reach out to our families and friends and loved ones at church. If we’re feeling inspired, we’re invited to help people around us. There is so much we can do. We have so much good news to share.
In this past year I’m inspired by the parishes that have met online and learned to do ministry in new ways. I’m inspired by parishes that have redone their finances and figured out how to live within their means in a new way. I’m inspired by parishes that have started ministries, because they’re excited about trying something new. What has been cannot continue to be, because we’re in a time of change.
So when we think about “Emerging in God’s Love” and going from what has been to what will be, we need to refrain from thinking, “That’s over, we’re coming out of COVID and so we’re done with change.”
We’re coming out of COVID stronger, more resilient, more capable. We’re coming out of this time of pandemic knowing more about what makes us the Body of Christ. We have discovered the truth of the Gospel in our own life, in our own heart. We have discovered that the love of God is made manifest when we call each other by phone, when we meet on Zoom, when we reach out to support our neighbors, leaving gifts on one another’s porches, writing notes of encouragement. We have seen our chaplains working so faithfully at the hospitals. We have seen our nurses, doctors, and caregivers with new gratitude. And we have grieved, and we have been sad—we’ve learned to do that together as well. Maybe we’re a little bit more honest. Maybe we’re a little bit more inspired. Because through it all, through the challenges of the past year, we have become a stronger Diocese.
I am so grateful and proud to serve with you, and I’m so grateful for each of you and the part you play in making this Diocese such a special, wonderful place to be. We have so much love to share, and it is time for us to emerge. It is time for us to emerge out of our self-doubt. It is time for us to emerge out of our worry that we’re not enough, and to recognize that God in us is enough.
So thank you for all that you are doing in our Diocese and world. And may God’s love emerge in us. May we find Jesus in serving; may we find Jesus in each aspect of our lives. May God bless you and may God keep you. Thank you.
The Rt. Rev. Dr. DeDe Duncan-Probe
Bishop of Central New York
November 13, 2021