Hi, I’m Bishop Brian. Over these last past few days, I had been home in Missouri and Arkansas to be with my mom as she died and to participate in her funeral. That trip back to Missouri and to Arkansas also included some time in Memphis, Tennessee with my eldest brother and his wife, looking over family photos, looking at old letters and essays my father had written and various attempts at poetry and correspondence between my mother and my father. And I wanted to tell you a story about my hometown that I was reminded by during this trip back home.
The old movie theater in my town was called, “The Joy Theater.” And I remember seeing “101 Dalmatians,” and I think, “The Love Bug,” and Walt Disney films before it was closed in the early 80s. And it was derelict and empty for years and then over time demolished. And all that was left was just the marquee sign, “The Joy Theater.”
And one year, several years ago, I was back home visiting and “The Joy Theater” sign had been turned into what was going to be the world’s greatest signboard. A local preacher had decided that Hayti, Missouri needed to be the place of the world’s largest Christian monument. And so he had pieced together a homemade board. Maybe up to about 20 feet with various things declaring what would happen if in Hayti, Missouri, they built the world’s largest signboard. He said, “Hayti would be declared one of the Holy cities along with Jerusalem and Bethlehem, that billions of people would come to visit. That all the churches would be filled.” And all this would happen if you would send him money to build the world’s biggest signboard.
Needless to say, that did not happen.
But going home and being reminded of that story and seeing pictures of that attempt at the world’s greatest signboard for me, was a reminder as we begin another church year, if you will, as we think about the school year and the church year, about what we’re building this time, this year in the Diocese of East Tennessee. Last year in August and September, maybe your parishes were having very traditional rally days or back-to-church school days. Knowing this year, our planning for 20 and 2021 will be very, very different.
But we are still building something. We’re not building however, large monuments. We’re not intended to build large museums. We’re intended to nurture a garden of life. Pope John 23rd talked about not to guard a museum, but to tend to live, to tend to a garden.
And so I would encourage you to continue to think about what it is we’re being encouraged to grow. To emerge and to nurture the Christ that is emerging and growing in our midst. To be open to that sense of growth now. In a time of uncertainty, in a time of maybe anxiety, about resources be it people, be it money, we are still called to be God’s people. And still called to build something in our lives. Not towers that go high, but interior lives that go deep.
So, I would encourage you to continue to think about the ways in which our parishes, our ministries, our work as a Diocese will nurture that sense of going deep this year. Our Bishop and Council has just completed a retreat, looking at the idea of what it means to be connected communities in Christ. That whether we’re doing that electronically, whether we’re doing that in some way carefully, masked and in social distance, that we need to continue to be a people that nurture our faith in community. The Christian life is not intended to be lived in isolation or to be lived alone. We are called to be in community.
So, this year in particular, we will have to be incredibly creative about how we do that. But to know the call to be in community remains the same. I would ask that you pray for your clergy, pray for your vectors and lay-leaders. That we offer each other a deep sense of generosity as we listen to each other, as we care for each other, as we continue to make plans. Be it the work of the Evangelism Task Force or the Christian Formation Task Force, or the Becoming Beloved Community Task Force. All of that work is connected in building communities. Building communities in Christ that truly invite us to take on the mind of Christ and to love Christ with all our mind and heart and body and soul. To fire a Christian imagination in a time when so many things around us may be diminished or appear diminished.
It is a grace and a joy to be your Bishop. Thank you for all the ways in which you have prayed for my family and shared notes and calls and emails to me as we gave thanks for my mother’s life. It is good to be back home in East Tennessee and to continue to think about what we’re building and what we’re growing. It’s not about going high. It’s about going deep, amen.
Filmed on August 26, 2020