Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Salvation from Seniors
This past weekend I had the chance to spend some time with my longtime friend and mentor, Bishop Claude Payne, retired Bishop of the Diocese of Texas. Some of you will remember that it was Bishop Payne who wrote the book, Reclaiming the Great Commission, which I have found to be a very helpful guide in my ministry as Bishop. Bishop Payne was in town to preach at the installation service of The Rev. Philip Jackson, the new rector of Christ Church of the Ascension in Paradise Valley. Philip's connections with Bishop Payne go back further than mine. They worked together in Texas, and the Bishop presided at Philip's marriage ceremony.
Bishop Payne was one of the oldest bishops ever elected in this country, not taking the reins of the Diocese of Texas until age 61. But once started, he accomplished some amazing things. Prior to his call to the priesthood, Bishop Payne was an engineer. Like most engineers, when confronted by a problem, he devised a solution and then implemented it. The newly-minted Bishop Payne faced a diocese with declining membership, stagnant growth and lack of vision. But thanks to his methodical approach to problems and solutions, the result is that Texas is now one of the largest and healthiest dioceses in the country.
What struck me most strongly during the time we spent together this weekend was that although now well into his retirement, and at an age when many of us would be content to play golf or bridge, Bishop Payne has taken on a quiet, but determined, reformation of the Episcopal Church. A few years ago, he began a series of informal meetings of bishops and clergy, a "Gathering of Leaders." Those attending share a common goal of not being sidetracked by the all too ubiquitous political infighting and to keep focused on the church's main task of spreading the Gospel. We share best practices with each other, and give each other mutual support. I am honored to be part of this group, and I have, in turn, invited several young clergy of our diocese to participate.
Not long ago I visited a vestry where, after I had challenged them to commit to a new vision of growth, one exasperated vestry member said, "We can't do that, we're too old!"
I recalled the saying of Winston Churchill, "Most good is done in the world by people who don't feel very well."
Bishop Payne is an example of someone who is having a huge effect on the lives of many in his "retirement." I am sure you can think of other examples in your own church or community who contribute to a future they may never see. I am quite proud of my Dad who last year at the age of 84 volunteered to work on a building project for the poor in Guatemala, who spearheaded a library expansion program in their town, and who sat on the board of directors of their county community college district. I recall a gentleman from St. John's church in Glendale who sang in the choir there-up to when he was 102!
It is true that the Episcopal Church is "grayer" than many denominations. That is certainly true here in Arizona. But that does not mean that even our older members can't continue to exercise dynamic, thoughtful, and productive ministries, and even change the course of the church for the future.
I wonder what Bishop Payne plans to do once he turns 80?