Sam Carter Gilliam, performed a “story portrait” of the Samaritan Woman at the Well on Saturday, February 24. Many of us know the woman well, or at least we think we do. Her story has been told many times, but through Sam’s dramatic portrayal, we heard her tell it, where, beneath the surface and in the spaces between the lines, secrets live. The presentation opens with Marthe Curry reading the story from the Gospel of John.
Welcome in with a loud celebration and a standing ovation, members of Grace Church, San Antonio, walked around the floor of Diocesan Council and made their way to the front, as they were welcomed as the newest parish in the Diocese of West Texas. What began in the Rev. Jay and Jamie George’s living room in 2009 – a dream of a new kind of Episcopal church with their family of 5 – grew to 20 people, to 40, and continued to grow. Grace Church, which became a mission of the diocese in 2011, now has over 220 members and an average Sunday attendance of 97. Over 85 percent of its members are under that age of 55. “You planted this church, with your prayers and support, and we are most grateful. Thank you, thank you,” said Jay George.
“We cover a lot of ground, don’t we? We are 86 churches who are ambassadors of God’s love and mercy to all the people who inhabit the 66,000 square miles that are the Diocese of West Texas,” said the Rt. Rev. Jennifer Brooke-Davidson during the Bishop Suffragan’s report to Diocesan Council on Saturday, February 24.
This year, she said, “we will get refocused on the mission of God through the study of Scripture,” referencing Bishop Reed’s asking of the diocese to read the Bible in its entirety in 2018.
We will “bring more workers into the harvest through the work of existing congregations and through the creation of new congregations; and engage new ways of engaging a rapidly changing culture with the eternal message of God’s love and saving mercy, to offer a vision of wholeness, health, and peace.”
But challenges exist, said Brooke-Davidson. “Insider church challenges – what are we going to do about the fact that many of our congregations just can’t afford a full-time seminary-trained priest and that some of them are not young and married with adorable small children?
“Let me tell you about St. Luke’s, San Saba,” said Brooke-Davidson. And she told of pastor Bill Grusendorf, a bi-vocational priest since 1974, a community-oriented guy in a small town. Since becoming Vicar of St. Luke’s, the church has added a parish hall, a library, and a restroom, and Grusendorf has purchased two computers to help local kids who cannot afford one complete their school homework.
St. Luke’s has a vesting room full of instruments – trombones, French horns, clarinets, all for a kid’s band that performs on the Fourth of July and at Christmas. And when the church isn’t helping on the computers or with the kid’s band, volunteers are at the children’s playroom they furnished at the local courthouse after they noticed how many kids were hanging around waiting for their parents to get out of court.
“Don’t worry about getting a young priest. An old one works just fine if he or she is still on fire for the Gospel,” said Brooke-Davidson.
What about churches without even a part-time priest? “Well, there’s St. Matthias, in Devine,” she said, “and they haven’t had more than a supply priest in years.” But they do have the Lesieurs, “folks with energy, and they love the Lord.”
St. Matthias is now involved in eight community projects through the town’s Ministerial Alliance; they were one of the first churches to drop off a car load of supplies for hurricane relief; and with no organist, they “sing up a storm” each Sunday with Synthia, a recorded hymn software, and a used karaoke machine.
“When there’s a will, there’s a way. When there’s no will, not much helps. It’s all in the attitude,” said Brooke-Davidson.
Moving to Congregational Development, she reported on the new support for churches rolling out this year.
First, an assessment process from a company named Holy Cow! to adapt and adopt new strategies on areas of focus. Second, a multi-faceted approach to church growth in vitality and impact including: basic training in lay ministry; a sequenced leadership development program called the College for Congregational Development (developed in the Diocese of Olympia). Also, an on-site analysis of the demographic context of each congregation; and a web-based platform called Basecamp to capture information, connect churches with communication technologies (webinars, virtual meetings), and document sharing.
The Basecamp platform is already set up and contains resources for any congregation using “The Story” this year as the year-long Bible study. Find it under Spiritual Formation on the diocesan website: www.dwtx.org.
“I am looking forward to a year of close collaboration with Bishop Reed and with you as we follow Jesus together as the church in the worlds that are South Texas,” said Brooke-Davidson.
In celebration of the Episcopal camping ministries of our diocese, the Camps and Conferences folks have created a new Camps Video featuring our summer programs at Camp Capers, Mustang Island Conference Center, and Duncan Park in Colorado. Please watch and enjoy stories from warmer days in the Hill Country, our Gulf Coast, and the Colorado Rocky Mountains.
“Bishop Reed has asked us to read the whole Bible this year, and he thinks that’s a good idea. Now I will tell you why it is a bad idea,” said the Rt. Rev. Jennifer Brooke-Davidson, bishop suffragan of the diocese, in the opening of her Council Eucharist sermon.