The Diocese of Louisiana 182nd Convention Christ School
Finding a Place in a Displaced World
November 1, 2019
A person checks into a hotel for the first time in his life and goes up to his room. Five minutes later he calls the desk and says, “You’ve given me a room with no exit. How do I leave?
The desk clerk says, “Sir, that’s impossible. Have you looked for the door?”
The person says, “Well, there’s one door that leads to the bathroom. There’s a second door that goes into the closet. And there’s another door I haven’t tried, but it has a ‘DO NOT DISTURB’ sign on it.”
How can we welcome people if we don’t know where the door is?
A little over a year ago I was sitting in the alumni building at Episcopal High when my eyes settled on these words: Finding a Place in a Displaced World. The work going on around me moved on but my attention stopped on these words. What did they mean? Why were they in our binder for this retreat? I’m not sure what made me say this but I mumbled under my breath, this is our theme for our next convention. Our theme for last year was already chosen, so I would have to wait a year before we could use this phrase; Finding a Place in a Displaced World.
Finding our place in this world is not easy. The challenges sometimes feel unsurmountable. As parents, we worry about our children fitting in the right crowd. Will they have friends with which to hang out? Will they be invited to the birthday parties and participate in school sports or plays or other activities that give them a sense of purpose and belonging? It’s not too much different for adults either. We wonder if what we do for a living really matters and does it contribute to the needs of the community? Can we provide the basic necessities for ourselves and our family? These and other questions swirl around our mind, sometimes leaving us with more questions and worries than direction. How do we find our way in this displaced landscape? These are some of the questions with which I have wrestled over my life as an adult, a spouse and as a parent. How do I make sense out of my doubts, fears, joys, and accomplishments?
Many of you have heard my story so I won’t repeat it, but let me say one thing. The place my soul always returns when I’m troubled or restless is the church. The church is where I sensed the presence of God at an early age and it continues to be the place for me to rest when I’m weary. One of the most powerful times has been the Real Presence service at the Cathedral on Sunday evening. Listening to John Craft’s son play the cello in the dimly lit nave is beyond words. In the candlelit space my mind is free to settle into receiving God’s love in a way that leading worship sometimes does not. It feeds my soul.
If the church can be a place of recharging for me then it can certainly be a place for others too. The question is, how do we learn the art of giving the invitation in such a way that is inviting and not threatening? Cannon Kellogg and I began talking about this a year ago and Mary Parmer’s name quickly surfaced as someone who could lead us into a conversation as to how we can be a hospitable, inviting, caring community that is open to all. I am thrilled that Mary Parmer is with us this weekend and I hope you will take good notes to take back to your congregation. The world needs us to welcome all of God’s children home, where the door is wide open.
Today is All Saints Day in the life of the Church. As our opening liturgy pointed out, we are surrounded by a great cloud of saints who have tilled the ground for the people of God. People such as Moses who led our ancestors across the waters into the promised land, or Mary the God-Bearer who said, ‘yes’, or Frances Gaudet who braved the white world to bring justice and education to young black boys incarcerated. While it is true that the saints we remember today have long gone on to their resting place, they were once alive and willing to risk their lives for the calling God put in front of them. There is something about remembering the saints of old. I think that is why my eyes water when we respond, ‘STAND HERE BESIDE US’. I want to feel their presence, power, faith, and courage, and that maybe some of it will rub off on me. May we have the audacity to speak boldly the words of our Savior Jesus, to love our enemy, do good to those who hate us, to bless those who curse us, and pray for those who abuse us. If we choose to turn our eyes from this command, what are we doing here?
What is our place as people of God in this displaced world? Let me give you some of the examples that we as a diocese are doing. This past year we began the initiative of Stewardship of the Environment. This committee headed by Deacon Joey Clavijo has quickly moved to understand some of the many issues facing our community and the larger landscape. Between land that is shrinking, oyster beds that are disappearing and water that continues to swamp our streets we must find ways to address these issues of economic development and religious responsibility of caring for God’s gift to us. Conversations built upon trusting relationships must be first priority. Some believe the stewardship of the environment is a political agenda. If you believe this, I simply ask that you drive south and talk with the folks who used to live on dry land that is now underwater or better yet, read the beginning of Genesis where God created and then gave us the command to take good care of it. Deacon Clavijo will have more to say in his report.
Another area I want to address that comes under the heading of helping people in a displaced world is the work of our Commission on Racial Reconciliation. This past year this commission underwent a major change. For the past several years the committee had become lethargic. We met, but not much transpired from the meetings to the parish. This year, with the help of Dr. Catherine Meeks, the director of the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Reconciliation in Atlanta, Georgia, we have reformed the commission. Their mission is simple. They are charged with going into congregations and leading the clergy and vestries through a conversation on what it means to be reconciled to one another.
This change, of course, came to me while perusing a list of books. One, in particular, caught my eye. WHITE FRAGILITY, Why it’s so hard for White People to Talk about Racism, by Robin Diangelo. The title suggested to me what I already knew. It is hard for me to talk about racism as my role as a white male. I didn’t have the tools. I knew this to be true but didn’t know where to go with my knowing until I read this statement by Dr. Diangelo: “The idea of race as a biological construct makes it easy to believe that many of the divisions we see in society are natural. But race, like gender, is socially constructed. The differences we see with our eyes—differences such as hair texture and eye color—are superficial and emerged as adaptations to geography. Under the skin, there is no true biological race.” From the founding fathers through today, we have held onto teachings that run deep in our social system and in order to understand these notions we must feel safe in expressing them and then demystifying what we know to be false. The work of reconciliation especially racial is very difficult work but one our Lord Jesus calls us to. St. Paul is right, in Jesus, there is no Jew or Greek, male or female, black person or white person. I’m proud of the work that Mother Liz Embler-Beazly has done leading this change in the commission. You will hear more from her later in the convention.
Another initiative that I want to bring to your attention is the Grace Church Congregational Development Fund. This is a fund from the selling of the church property on Canal Street in New Orleans. We set aside a portion to help with congregations who are on the cusp of hiring a full-time rector. Through the work of Canon Manning and Chris Speed, the Diocesan Administrator, we have identified several churches who might fit the prototype for which we are looking. If these churches have shown steady growth over the last three or so years then we talk with them about the initiative. What this means is that the diocese will pay a third of the salary for the first year and then less next year then less the year following. During this time there will be goals and objectives the church will have to meet in order to stay in the program. By year four it is our goal to have the parish paying the full package for their rector. This year we began with St. Michael’s, Mandeville. Robert Beazley will tell you more about this journey.
Another initiative that began several years ago has to do with how we financially support our seminarians. Because of parishioners John and Virginia Noland’s generosity, the diocese is able to give $8,000 per student per year to our residential seminarians. For those who are attending the Iona school for ministry in Mississippi, we pay 100% of their tuition. We are not where we want to be, but we are getting close.
Another initiative that goes to help our clergy is the Cantess fund. Every year the diocese distributes $2000.00, from the Cantess Fund. This money goes to the priest next in line for the longest tenure in the diocese. He or she is to use it for a pilgrimage that will energize his/her ministry. This year’s recipient was Fr. Richard Easterling.
You will notice an increase in the budget for the prison work at Angola. The work is extremely important and I am pleased with the work Mother Peggy Scott has undertaken in what is often described as a very trying atmosphere. We desperately need priests to administer the sacraments and laity to speak with the inmates. Please make this a priority in your prayer life.
Another outreach program the diocese supports is the Gaudet Fund. Ms. Frances Gaudet’s work was mostly with children at risk, going into prisons and retrieving young African American children who were often housed in adult institutions. The conditions were deplorable and unsuitable for children. Because of Ms. Gaudet’s ministry, the Gaudet Fund was able to dispense over $182,000 in scholarships and community projects this past year.
The diocese supports many other ministries and we are grateful that we can fund them even when it is a small amount.
These ministries and the ministries you provide through your outreach are the work we share. We exist because God was gracious to us by sending his Son to live among us, to show us how to live in God with one another. We are called to live in a world that is displaced, that is angry and unresolved. But that is okay. What you and I bring into the picture is not the world but a loving, life-giving God that can heal and bring new life. This is the hard work you and I are called to do. So let us not seize the day to put others down or feel helpless. Let us lift one another up, to do to others as you would have them do to you.
In his book, Looking Around for God, James Autry tells the story of his son at a track meet. His son Ronald was a freshman at Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, Iowa. Ronald is autistic. He didn’t walk much until age three and even as a freshman in high school he often fell while walking. Most of the time Ronald walked around with a large bump on his forehead because his motor skills were not developed enough to allow his arms to rise quickly enough to keep his head from striking the ground in a fall. Autry said he desperately wanted to protect his son from embarrassment but his wife, who had a better understanding than he, instructed him to butt out and let Ronald endure the fall. He will learn what he needs to learn, she said.
One day Ronald came home and said he wanted to try out for the track team. This was quite a surprise to his parents, partially because he was very slow and often fell, but the coach put him on the team and told Ronald that he would run the 400 meter or 200 meter race. Again, Autry was more concerned that Ronald would embarrass himself and it would be devastating. But his wife kept reminding him to support the decision.
Autry said he went to the first meet where Ronald was to run the 400. It was a cool day, which made Autry nervous because Ronald would be wearing his sweats over his track uniform. This was a problem because Ronald would have to take his shoes off to get his sweat pants off and he had a bad habit of putting his shoes on the wrong feet. He also tied his shoes the way he learned as a boy, loose, which meant they might come off while running. Autry was so nervous. He didn’t want Ronald to be embarrassed or get heckled.
Sure enough as Autry predicted, when Ronald took off his sweat pants and put his shoes back on, he put them on the wrong feet but then he saw one of Ronald’s teammates bend over and help him reverse the pair.
Ronald went to the starting block, the gun fired and off they went. He quickly fell to the back of the pack, but he kept running. When all the runners crossed the line Ronald was only halfway around the track.
Autry kept the camcorder on Ronald. As he came around the last corner his teammates in the infield began to yell, “Go, Ronald! Go, Ronald!”
As Ronald got closer to the finish line Autry noticed out of the corner of his eye other people began to yell, “Go, Ronald!” And as he passed the stands, coming down the home stretch everyone was yelling, “Go, Ronald!” When Ronald finally crossed the finish line the crowd was on its feet chanting. It was as if they were cheering on some Olympic star. Everyone was cheering Ronald. Members of the other teams were high-fiving Ronald and patting him on his back saying, “Great race.”
Autry writes: “I realized then that Ronald’s run was not about me or my worries of embarrassment; it was about him and those other young people and parents, and somehow also about how Ronald had given them the chance to reveal the divine within themselves.”
Later, he said, “I asked Ronald”, ‘What were you thinking as you ran?’ He said, ‘You can do it, Ronald, you can do it.’”
My friends, don’t get discouraged. Stay the course. Practice your prayers, your kindness and your loving. This is all we can do. Keep practicing. Together we can tell the story of hopefulness and welcome. Together we can help others to see the divine in themselves. Keep practicing.