The Episcopal Church of the Central Gulf Coast
views from the bishop's chair
October 30, 2019

Views from the Bishop's Chair
by the Rt. Rev. Russell Kendrick,
Bishop of the Central Gulf Coast
Last week, I presided at Pete Burgess’ ordination to the priesthood. The service opens with one of my favorite prayers in The Book of Common Prayer. Here is an excerpt:

"...Let the whole world see and know that things which were being cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord…” 
Clergy raising the wall of a Habitat for Humanity home build.
Much is made of the decline in church attendance, and there are plenty of statistics to warrant concern. However, not all the news is bad. I say that because I have seen things being raised up; I have witnessed things being made new; I have watched things being brought into perfection. I have seen these marvelous things in you. So here is some good news for which to be thankful.

Just a few months ago the annual statistical report of The Episcopal Church was published. Our diocese is one that grew in membership last year. Our Sunday attendance declined just a bit, so we still have some evangelism to do. Still, let’s not miss the chance to praise God for some good news. This is the work of evangelism, and you are doing it! Thank you.

In September, we sponsored three diocesan-wide events. We did not plan it that way. After all, September is a busy time in church. Still, you showed up!  

Over 60 people from some 25 churches attended the Way of Love/Evangelism 201 workshop led by Jerusalem Greer, The Episcopal Church’s staff officer for evangelism. Participants returned home with concrete ways to weave The Way of Love into their congregational ministries and mission.

Nearly 100 choristers from 22 churches gathered at our cathedral for the Diocesan Choir Festival to nurture their gifts of leading worship and singing a new song into our churches.

Some 40 people from 20 churches spent time on a Saturday to attend a workshop organized by our Commission on Affirmative Aging. Attendees learned ways to care for those with dementia and minister to the aging populations in our congregations.  

In the past six months, two new chapters of the Daughters of the King have been instituted in our diocese. Daughters pledge to be about the work of service and prayer.

Last year, our diocesan Cursillo program took the risk of increasing our annual Cursillo weekends from two to three. With that decision came the hopeful challenge of more staff and more pilgrims.  And it is happening!

Our Commission on Racial Justice & Reconciliation continues to help us “strive for justice and peace” by hosting workshops, speakers and pilgrimages. In 2019, they sponsored five day-long racial reconciliation workshops with some 100+ attending altogether. Such workshops are mandated in every diocese in The Episcopal Church. The commission has also organized pilgrimages to the Equal Justice Initiative's Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice.  
In August, over 60 young people showed up at Beckwith Camp amidst busy back-to-school and sports schedules for the annual diocesan Worship on the Water event. Worshiping on the waters of Weeks Bay with their friends from around the diocese while sitting upon kayaks and paddleboards was quite a sight! 

Two of our congregations - Holy Cross, Pensacola and St. Mary’s Andalusia - are amidst building programs in order to tend to growing membership and ministry efforts! 

Under the guidance of Kammy Young, our canon missioner for development: evangelism and mission engagement, St. Jude’s, Niceville, Christ the King, Santa Rosa Beach and St. Agatha’s DeFuniak Springs are collaborating to bring an Episcopal presence to the community of Freeport, Florida. 

Just last month, the eight students in our local School for Ministry were approved as candidates for ordination. This year they have begun their final year of formation which includes partnering with six congregations in our diocese. Their energy, creativity and devotion is contagious.  

As far as I can tell from my reading of the Gospels, Jesus never stopped to count the people in the crowd. He did not focus on numbers; Jesus focused on hearts. However, numbers can be an outward and visible sign of new life and greater commitment. In a time when many are preaching the demise of church, I wanted you to hear a different tune. I wanted to sing a new song that I have heard in you.  

So, thank you. Thank you for who you are trying to be in God’s world. Thank you for your devotion to each other and to our Lord. Thank you for your trust in me as your bishop. Here is the collect in its entirety. Let us pray.
O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were being cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen  

P.S.  Next year is the 50th anniversary of our life together as the Episcopal Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast. It is my fervent hope that our Jubilee year will be a time to remember our story, reorient ourselves to what matters to God, and invite God to pour out a spirit of revival and renewal in us and through us.  Here is a video about what to expect next year!
The Rt. Rev. J. Russell Kendrick, Bishop
Episcopal Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast

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