New year, new relationships

Where are we as we enter into a new year? Sadly, we emerge from the cocoon of Christmas into a world of terror, geopolitical uncertainty, and for many of us the slog of long work days and little light. This is the time of year when I am most ready to pray the ancient hymn with which our rite for Evening Prayer begins:

“O gracious light, pure brightness of the ever-living Father in heaven, O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed. Now as we come to the setting of the sun and behold the setting of the sun, we sing your praises, O God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. You are worthy to be praised by happy voices, O Son of God, O giver of life, and to glorified through all the worlds.”

As Christians, we don’t slow down or lose heart because it is dark. As we learn every year from the Christmas story, Christ came in the midst of darkness. Another way of saying this is that Christ, who is God’s word of love and care for us, is especially close to us when things are at their worst. That is when we see the possibility of something new rising out of the break up of the old.

We are not in a bad way in Southern Ohio – to the contrary, much is flourishing. But there is fear that the old ways are dying, and that young adults are not replacing old adults. That fear is well founded. Young adults are not interested in shoring up the church as an institution. Nevertheless, they are interested in Jesus, and what it might mean to follow him in connection with others.

This is where I find hope – not for our survival as a denomination, but for a recovery of the Episcopal tradition as a movement, grounded in Jesus, claiming union with the apostles through time, and always ready, on the basis of that apostolic order, to be in relationship with whatever is around us.

This is the key – to be in relationship with whatever is around us. Our recent annual diocesan convention voted to do away with the deanery system as an outmoded means of promoting relationship. But that means we must be open to new ways of relating to one another in Christ. I see such relationships all around, and have asked every congregation to let me know more about how they are engaging in partnerships for mission – with other Episcopal churches, with other Christian churches, with charitable and government agencies, with Jewish, Muslim and other faith communities and with anyone of good will, so we can move forward more boldly into the common work God is giving us to do.

I am currently identifying and recruiting a group of volunteers from around the diocese to help us gather this information, so that it can be shared widely and celebrated. I may have been overly optimistic when I suggested that we would hear from everyone by the beginning of Lent! This gathering of stories will take time, but I remain hopeful that we will have a rich harvest of narratives to give thanks for at our diocesan convention next November.

I want this body of information to be available to everyone as it comes in, since it is sure to shed light on areas where new and surprising partnerships could be explored. The point is to discover the connective tissue and the ligaments that already bind us together organically, so that we may build on that as a body.

As I write this, Margaret and I are getting ready to leave for some vacation time in Italy – our gift to one another in thanksgiving for thirty years of marriage. We will be spending time in Rome, Assisi and Florence. On January 16, while we are in Rome, we will be going down into the excavations beneath St. Peter’s Basilica, where the burial place of Peter lies. I will be praying for our diocese there, and ask for your prayers as we visit this holy site.

(Editor’s note: Bishop Breidenthal returned from vacation Feb. 3)