One of the things that’s changing is the way we think about the local church, right? For a century, it’s been kind of one particular model, even the way we structured our buildings. And now, we’ve got to think about how we live and move in our communities? And it’s going to look differently. It’s not going to be a three-acre piece of land with three buildings and doing things the same way that we’ve done them.
Easton: This is For People with Bishop Rob Wright.
Melissa: Well, hey, everybody. I’m Melissa Rau, your host and this is For People with Bishop Rob Wright. And Bishop Rob is traveling this week, he is on his way to the Diocese of Cape Coast, which is the companion Diocese of the Diocese of Atlanta. And so, instead, we have Bishop Doug Scharf joining us from the Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida. Good morning, Bishop.
Doug: Good morning. Good to be with you.
Melissa: It’s good to be with you. So, we just celebrated Easter.
Doug: We did.
Melissa: And I’m curious, what does resurrection mean to you?
Doug: Well, for me, resurrection is all about new creation. It’s a foretaste of God’s future. And so, yes, we celebrate the victory of Jesus over death conquering the grave. But that points us forward to God’s much more expansive vision of redemption and renewal for all of creation. So, if you jump ahead to Revelation 21, we get this amazing vision of the one seated on the throne who says, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And so, it’s not just the capstone of the story of Jesus, it is a kind of a breaking open for the story of all of humanity and all of creation in God’s promise of new creation.
Melissa: You know, you highlighted the Revelation verse, “Behold, I’m making all things new.” And I kind of feel like there’s absolutely nothing new about that. Like, hasn’t God said throughout the entire arc of the Bible, that he’s doing, God’s doing a new thing. And so, I’m curious what you think about that image of the newness of life that is both constant and eventual?
Doug: Well, I think that throughout Scripture, there is the bringing together of old and new. You know, Jesus says, in one passage, that the scribe in the kingdom of God is like someone who goes into a treasure chest, bringing things out old and new. And in the book of Revelation, you’ve got the song of Moses, that’s really old, and the song of the Lamb, which is brand new. So, there’s always this pairing of old and new. But I think you’re right, if you go all the way back to creation, the promise, the vision, was that God would dwell with humanity, and the the creation of humans in the image of God, you know, in the ancient world, the last thing you did when building a temple was placed the image inside. And so, if you think of the creation process as God building this temple, this dwelling place, the last thing he does is not put a statue or a piece of wood. He puts living, breathing beings that are image bearers of God. And God intends to dwell with them. And of course, things don’t go well with that initially. And so, the whole arc of scripture is God reconciling and restoring and repairing that broken relationship. And so, the tabernacle in the wilderness, the temple in Jerusalem, the Eucharist, all of these are places where God meets with God’s people.
And then the vision in Revelation 21 Is God dwells with humanity, right? So, what’s new about the new creation, is that finally this vision is perfectly fulfilled because of what Jesus has done and the new creation that is God is bringing to birth.
Melissa: That’s great. So, you said, that God’s work is reconciling, restoring, and repairing. I’m wondering if you can say what you think we might be doing alongside God’s work in restoring, repairing, and reconciling. Is there something we could be doing or might be doing in order to make that work very real and relevant in our now time?
Doug: Well, I guess what I would say, Bishop Ian Douglas recently resigned from Connecticut always liked to say– How did he put it. The church doesn’t have a mission. God’s mission has as church, or something like that.
Melissa: Christopher AH Wright said that first.
Doug: Did he? Okay, perfect, thank you. Thank you for getting my reference right and I’m sure that I butchered the quote. But something like that, that we are participants in this amazing work of transformation, that we are ambassadors of reconciliation, that we are sent forth as witnesses of this new creation. And in First Corinthians 5:17, where it says, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.” There is actually no being verb in Greek. It’s just, if anyone is in Christ, new creation. There’s something breaking forth, something happening every time someone sort of enters in and becomes a participant in this mission, in this grand work of God. So, whether it’s working for justice, whether it’s working for, you know, evangelism, and expanding the scope, and breadth of the work of the church, whether it’s doing the work of mission, whatever it is that God particularly calls us to do, it is part of this much larger mission that is all building for this kingdom, this new creation, this rain that is to come.
Melissa: We’re going to take a very quick break and we’ll be right back after this.
Easton: Hi, listeners, thank you for listening to For People, a space of digital evangelism. You can keep up with us on Instagram and Facebook at Bishop Rob Wright. And now back to For People.
Melissa: Welcome back to For People. As I understand it, you are a baby Bishop.
Doug: I am, very baby.
Melissa: When were you consecrated remind me?
Doug: September 24, 2022, just over six months ago.
Melissa: Yeah. And you were installed then, early January, is that correct? If I remember correctly.
Doug: Yeah, I officially stepped into the Diocese role of December 10th, but the seating happened about a month later.
Melissa: That’s right. That’s right. So, I’m curious about the breaking forth. I know you’ve shared a word with me and your staff in the Diocese of Southwest Florida that one of your words of the year or theme of the year, personally, is emergence. And I can’t help but wonder that emergence and resurrection are very closely linked and tied. Do you want to share a little bit about emergence or at least unpack it in the nuance in which you mean for it?
Doug: Yeah, well, I think that new creation and resurrection are happening all around us, all the time. We are resurrection people. Not in the past tense, but in the present tense. This is how we live and how we are called to live. And I share this with the clergy at our Chrism mass as well this year. Every year I pray for a word that kind of becomes the theme or kind of a guiding idea for the year. And this year, the word was emergence. And there’s so many ways to think about that word. But since we’re coming out of Holy Week and Easter, the one way that I’ve been thinking about it most recently, is in relation to the image that Jesus gives us in the Gospel of John where he says, “Unless a seed falls into the earth and dies, it remains a single seed. But if it falls into the earth and dies, it bears much fruit.” And so, emergence is that breaking forth. But sometimes it requires something to die. That something has to be let go of in order for something new to be able to come into existence. And I think that’s where we are as a church. There are some things that we have to die to, some things we have to be willing to let go of, some things we have to be willing to surrender in order for whatever the new thing is that God is doing to emerge.
And several of your listeners may be aware of the work that Phyllis Tickle did several years ago on the great emergence. And I think she was right on point, that we are in a season of reformation, a season of change, that the Holy Spirit is at work in the church, and it’s exciting to see what is going to take shape. But Phyllis Tickle noted that when you’re in the season of emergence, you don’t always know exactly what is emerging. And I think that’s true for us.
Melissa: Yeah, thank you for saying that. You know, for listeners who don’t know, my husband, Mike is also up Priest. I am not a priest. But he preached of course on Easter. And he highlighted the similar things, similar theme, wasn’t necessarily emergence, but it was change and dying to the old ways. And he highlighted the part of John’s gospel where Jesus says to Mary, “Do not hold on to me. Do not cling to me.” And I just thought that was like a gut punch. How often do we hold on to the things that we really love?
And so, Bishop, along those same lines, what would you say as a bishop whose job and role it is to protect and guide an institution? That must be difficult work trying to reconcile the fact that some things are dying and must die? If indeed, we are to get to resurrection? Do you have any thoughts on that?
Doug: Well, I think we need to be really clear about what is essential. And what is peripheral, when it comes to the life of the church. I mean, we have so much that is part of our foundation in terms of our Book of Common Prayer, our Creed’s, so much about our history and tradition. And I think there are wonderful and creative ways to continue to live into this. We have too. That is the way we are. Part of my role as a bishop, the whole idea of apostolic succession is not necessarily just the laying on of hands from one generation to the next, but the passing on of teaching. That is where that term came from in the earliest days of the church. I take that role seriously.
At the same time, the church, over 2,000 years, has had to be adaptive, and had to be responsive to what was going on in the cultural and social context of its day. For me, one of the things that’s changing is the way we think about the local church, right? For a century, it’s been kind of one particular model, even the way we structured our buildings. And now, we’ve got to think about how we live and move in our communities. And it’s going to look differently, it’s not going to be a three-acre piece of land, with three buildings and sort of doing things the same way that we’ve done them. So, holding on to essentials, being faithful to who God has always called us to be as followers of Jesus, but looking at a rapidly changing cultural and social context and say, “What is God doing here and now that we need to be a part of?”
Melissa: So, what’s the work then for the people who are lamenting and resist and belligerently vilify anybody who may be interested in trying new things? Do you have any ideas about how the church navigates those waters?
Doug: Well, I think we have to acknowledge grief. Everything that requires change also involves loss, which elicits grief. So, we have to acknowledge that. I feel it, I’ve grown up in the church, my dad’s a priest, I’m a fifth generation, Anglican family from Ireland and England. So, I mean, I am so just it’s in my blood, this this whole identity as as a follower of Jesus who lives it out in the particular way we do as Episcopalians and Anglicans. So, we have to be very, very pastoral and sensitive and walk with people through this.
At the same time, we need to give people a vision of what this emerging church mission is looking like, and give them something to be excited about. And I don’t know exactly what that looks like yet, but I’m excited about it, because I can feel it. I know that Jesus is calling us to step out. The world desperately needs hope and renewal and healing. And we are equipped by virtue of our baptism to do that.
Melissa: Yeah. One of my greatest laments, at least as a parent of youth, and to young adults really mostly. My youngest will be 17. But there’s this notion around that kids these days, you know, not that is new, that is nothing new. And yet, I feel like it’s a little bit harsher than it’s been. A real lament for older folks who naturally see this generation of Gen Z and Gen Alpha, really has a great disconnect overall from the church as we know it. And one thing I’m reminded of is that the Holy Spirit is with us and our young people.
So, what would you say to our future generations, who may not have made their way back to church as we know it? What do they have to look forward to? How might the church come alongside them in new ways? Do you have any ideas about how resurrection might show up for our youngest generations?
Doug: I think the first thing I would say is, we have to be really clear that our job is not to make more Episcopalians, but to make more disciples of Jesus Christ, and that includes our youth and young people. And so, what gives me some hope, is that what I’m seeing in the youth ministry, the parishes that I’ve served, is we’re doing a lot of the same stuff that we did when I was a kid, you know, confirmation classes, all that, that’s important. But there is, I think, an intentionality about building an authentic spiritual journey for our young people that gives them the freedom to be who they are and to teach us some things about what it means to be faithful and authentic in our faith.
I know some of the young people that I’ve worked with, it’s refreshing to see them sort of not bound by some of the same paradigms and mindsets and things that we have held on to for a long time. It’s just not in their worldview. And there’s an authenticity and a refreshing spirit with that.
Having said all that, I mean, we have to acknowledge that we are seeing a generational shift in the church and fewer of our young people are making their way back in any form, whether it’s the Episcopal Church or any other church. And I guess, I don’t have a solution to that other than to say that we need to be a place that really acknowledges what God is doing in the midst of this generational shift and allow our young people to teach us some things about what God is doing and where the church needs to go in the future.
Melissa: That’s great. I’m behind that Bishop. So, one question that Bishop Rob will often ask his guests is, do you have a favorite Bible verse, or a favorite Bible story, or person of the Bible, that rises up onto the top of things that is a guidepost for your life and the way you live it?
Doug: There are so many I love scripture, and I love studying scripture. But for me, 2nd Corinthians 5”19. “In Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself. And we have been given the ministry of reconciliation.” Our mission statement, if you will, in the Book of Common Prayer, “To restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” For me, that is the work of our time. We are so divided and there is so much that separates us. We are so angry right now in our culture and in our world, that the work of healing and reconciliation is paramount.
Melissa: Wow, thank you for that image. I could probably talk with you for another 20 minutes just on that alone. But Bishop, we are so grateful for the time that you’ve spent with us. Thank you for being with us this morning.
And of course, listeners we ask you to keep Bishop Rob in your prayers as he partners together with the Diocese of Cape Coast.
Thank you so much for listening to For People. You can keep up with us on Instagram and Facebook at Bishop Rob Wright. Please subscribe, leave a review, and we’ll be back with you next week.