To our Clergy, Churchwardens and Parishioners
Beloved in Christ, peace and grace be with you.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit…” These words from the Gospel of John, chapter 15, were spoken by Jesus to his disciples at the Last Supper. They are tender – words spoken in the shadow of the cross to disciples who would become the Church. John 15 was also the centerpiece text for my charge to Synod in November 2019. If you have not had a chance to watch it, I invite you to consider doing so. The imagery of the vine, the grower, and pruning for growth form the roots of the Priorities and Plans of the Diocese for the next two years, as they have done for our strategic plan Growing in Christ beginning in 2016.
Recently at a meeting I was asked by a lay member of Diocesan Council, “Bishop, what is your vision for the Diocese? In a word or two, what do you want us to do?”
And I said, “Simple…Grow!”
At its root the strategic plan calls us to “grow” in Christ. What does this mean, to grow in Christ?
It means that in all that we do, whether in our parishes, outreach ministries, diocesan ministries, chaplaincies and communities, we are summoned to flourish; in number, in maturity of faith, in our life of prayer and worship, in our leadership, in our embrace of a mission that calls us to move beyond the walls of the Church. To grow in Christ means to trust the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. To grow in Christ means that we sometimes have to let go of old structures and ways of doing things that keep us from taking the risks necessary to pursue the One we pledge to follow – Jesus.
Vestry provides one moment for every congregation to consider the challenge to grow in Christ. No matter the size of the community, no matter how large or small the budget, no matter the number of lay leaders or clergy, no matter the obstacles to balancing a budget…Are we doing all that we can to grow in our faith in Jesus Christ? What is one thing that we can do to deepen our discipleship? What is one thing that we can do to serve the needs of our neighbours? What is one thing that we can do to strengthen the bonds of affection that we have for each other?
Each year at vestry we ask you to consider supporting a social justice initiative through a particular motion. In the past we have asked vestries to consider addressing issues of poverty, raising the minimum wage and affordable housing. In 2020, we are asking you consider being good stewards of creation as we grapple with the growing climate emergency. We invite you to consider setting a goal to reduce our collective carbon footprint.
Sometimes we can focus only on what we don’t have at our annual vestry meetings, not enough money, not enough time, not enough people, not enough… Sometimes we can spend too much time only thinking about how on earth we are going to balance the budget. That’s not to say that balancing the budget isn’t important…it is. Rather, consider the words of Jesus in John 15. In the face of a future that doesn’t always seem very clear, lift up your hearts. Reach out and grow in Christ.
Yours in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Andrew J. Asbil
Bishop of Toronto