In his address to the 112th Diocesan Council, Bishop Gary Lillibridge, who will officially retire in July 2017, gave updates on diocesan ministries and the transition between Bishop Reed and him and spoke on the diocesan annual theme. Lillibridge also called for the election of a Bishop Suffragan to take place during Diocesan Council in February of 2017.
“The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10) is the annual theme for the diocese, and Lillibridge invited the diocese to study the Gospel of Luke together this year, as well as engage in several studies the Adult Christian formation team will put together. All diocesan studies can be found on the Christian formation website: www.christianformation-dwtx.org.
In 2012 Lillibridge invited the diocese to build three Habitat for Humanity homes together over the course of six years, two of which have been completed – the first in Lockhart, the second in Seguin. The third home will begin this year in Kerrville, a year ahead of schedule. Lillibridge said if diocesan efforts to support this endeavor continue, we will build four houses rather than three.
During his update on Camps and Conferences, Lillibridge said, “Camping has been an extremely formative influence in my own life since I was 10 years old.” The three camp facilities in the diocese – Camp Capers, Mustang Island Conference Center, and Duncan Park in Colorado – continue to be recognized as innovative and outstanding facilities.
A new Activities Building was recently completed at Camp Capers, which is part of the master plan that was initiated in 2011. The final phase includes a new Dining Hall, and once the needed $3.5 million is raised, the diocese will have invested over $10 million in the ministry in and through Camp Capers since 2011.
Lillibridge took the opportunity to surprise and honor retired diocesan bishop, the Rt. Rev. Jim Folts, and his wife, Sandy, as he announced that the new Activities Building at Camp Capers will be named in their honor. “Their years of service to West Texas have been extraordinary; and we are grateful for their service to several congregations in the diocese as well as their ministry in the bishop’s office (1994-2006).” Camp Capers is a special place to the Folts, as they met there in 1959.
Lillibridge said though the Master Plan for Camp Capers was initiated in 2011, it really extends back to the mid 1990s when under Bishops MacNaughton and Folts, new cabins, a new centrum, new crafts cabin, and a new swimming pool were added. “Therefore, once the new dining hall is completed, every building on the Camp Capers campus (except the chapel which we want to leave as is) will have been remodeled or completely replaced in the last 20 years.
The completion of the Master Plan will be remarkable for Camp Capers, which will observe her 70th birthday in 2017. Lillibridge extended deep appreciation to Jeff Rochelle, who is chairing the Master Plan effort, and to Mollie Zachry, who continues to lead the fundraising efforts for Camp Capers. Lillibridge will spend much of his remaining time in the bishop’s office devoted to continuing to provide outstanding camping and retreat facilities to the children, families, and congregations of the diocese, and other small groups.
Lillibridge once again invited the diocesan family to participate in Sharing Faith Dinners, to be held on Thursday, May 19. This will be the third year of diocesan participation. This year, the Diocese of Texas built a website full of the resources needed to coordinate and host these dinners at the church level, and that all can be found at www.sharingfaithdinners.com.
Coadjutor Transition and the Election of a Bishop Suffragan
At Diocesan Council in February 2015, Bishop Lillibridge handed over three areas of ministry to Bishop David Reed, bishop coadjutor, as canonically required in the Episcopal Church when a transition of leadership is in place. Those areas were clergy deployment, congregational development, and the ordination discernment process.
Also in 2015, Lillibridge charged the diocesan Standing Committee with developing a process for the election of a bishop suffragan in preparation for his retirement, which will occur in July 2017. In response, the Standing Committee has set forth a plan for an election that will occur at next year’s Diocesan Council in Corpus Christi on Saturday, February 25, 2017.
The person elected will join the diocesan staff at the Bishop Jones Center in May or June of 2017 in the role of bishop-elect and will be ordained as a bishop on July 29, 2017 by the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry.
Lillibridge said he has been reading a pamphlet entitled, “A Round Robin, The Story of West Texas,” as told by the Rev. A.W.S. Garden, about the earliest years of the Diocese of West Texas. The diocese came into existence as The Missionary District of Western Texas in 1874, and this pamphlet was published in 1915.
An excerpt from the pamphlet paraphrased by Lillibridge says, “Conditions make West Texas, in a remarkable degree, the Church’s land of opportunity. The people yearn for a religion that is positive and definite…the opportunity for the Church is here.”
Lillibridge said, “I believe that, 100 years after these words were penned, the opportunity for the Church – the Body of Christ – is still here.” On the word “opportunity,” Lillibridge said it is derived from the Latin term “ob portu.” In the days before modern ship harbors, the term referred to a ship off port, waiting for when it might ride the return of the tide to harbor. If the ship’s crew missed it, they had to wait for another tide.
Referring to a passage from Julius Ceasar by William Shakespeare (Act 4, Scene 3), Lillibridge said, “The Body of Christ always has opportunity before it. In the words of Shakespeare, we might say that the Church is always afloat on the ‘full sea of opportunity.’”
“Ask yourself individually and together as a congregation what opportunities are before you to be Christ to one another. Taking the ‘current when it serves’ means being willing and ready to put your faith into action,” said Lillibridge.
Referring to the annual theme, Lillibridge said, “Godly joy is thoroughly intertwined with the love of God and the love of neighbor.”
He said, “Whether experiencing hardship yourself or ministering to others in times of sadness and difficulty, know that Godly joy, like St. Paul’s description of love in his letter to the Corinthians, ‘always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres’ (1 Corinthians 13:7); or, in the beautiful and poetic words of the psalmist, ‘Weeping may spend the night, but joy comes in the morning’” (Psalm 30:6).
What makes God joyful, Lillibridge said, is appropriately given in Jesus’ summary of the law: (First), Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. (And second), Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these (Mark 12:30-31).
The pamphlet Lillibridge has been reading states that when Bishop Elliott came in 1874, the district, practically without railroads, held its first service in a passenger car at Luling. When Bishop Elliott’s work was complete, thirteen years later, he left 24 churches, nine rectories, St. Mary’s Hall in San Antonio, and Montgomery Institute in Seguin, both flourishing schools for girls.
Bishop Elliott, in the pamphlet, is quoted as saying, “A round trip of 1800 miles is necessary for visitation to the military posts. But to visit a post where there as been no service for years, to baptize well grown children who have waited all their lives for the opportunity, to officiate to devout communicants who approach the alter for the first time in years, this is work meet for thanksgiving.”
Lillibridge said, “May we, like Bishop Elliott, believe in our heart of hearts, that conditions still make West Texas, to a remarkable degree, the Church’s land of ob portu. That people here yearn for an expression of faith that is grace-filled and grounded in the very image of Jesus Christ.”
“As you live this life,” said Lillibridge, “be mindful that you only have so many days. Each day, therefore, is a gift. So treat it like you treat other gifts: unwrap it with joy. Godly joy. In doing so, may your joy be complete.”
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