Bishop Daniel Gutierrez, Diocese of Pennsylvania August 28, 2018/Nuevo Amanecer

Es un gran honor estar aquí con mis hermanas y hermanos. Mi sangre, mi fe, mi familia.

This week, your work, your prayers, this community will change the church. You are co-creators and collaborators with Jesus. The Kingdom is at hand.  

One of my favorite authors is Alice Walker. One of her short stories is The Welcome Table. It tells of an elderly, nameless black woman, "the color of poor gray Georgian earth," worn down by old king cotton. Dressed in tattered rags, she makes her way one Sunday morning "down the road toward the big white church," as the story says. A church that is pale in many ways. When she walks in, the good church folks are shocked. 
The preacher reminds her pleasantly that this is not her church, "as if one could choose the wrong one." Maybe she is a bit confused and in the wrong place. She shakes her head and brushes past them all and finds a seat near the back. Inside it is very cold, colder than usual. The dignified ushers come by, lean down and whisper. “You’re in the wrong place.”

She ignores the request of an usher that she leave, people turn around and look at her, the congregation is restless, and they finally insist. The dignified folk hurls her out. She is stunned; she looks around until she spies a familiar face, a friend coming down the road. 

How many people have walked into a church and have felt like they do not belong? The stares, the whispers. Feeling out of place. Maybe some act like you do not exist. In a sacred space, and few can manage a simple smile. The pain of isolation.

A bulletin is shoved in your hand. Will anyone speak to you? You want to turn around and walk right back out that door, but it is too late. The choir begins singing “Christ has made the sure foundation.” Like that woman in the story, you slide into the back row and fumble with the bulletin. You begin to take note that you are different: clothes, skin, language.

That red, white and blue sign says you will be welcome. You need Jesus, you seek Jesus, you see Jesus, but feeling that Kingdom, the one you are seeking is a bit far off. Is this a place where you belong? We have to ask ourselves hard questions, has this been the experience of some of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Based or race, color, orientation, economic status or age?

If it has, even one instance is unacceptable. This is why the holy work you are doing this week has profound meaning. The call to change the church, open hearts, lives, and doors. To build. All of you representing the beauty of the Christ and obeying his words: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

That they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Working alongside Jesus and pulling that beautiful kingdom down to earth. Your faithfulness, the ability to dream and the daring to ensure dreams do not simply stay dreams. That they become a reality.

The courage to step forth and change the church. I bring you greetings from the extraordinary, living, loving Diocese of Pennsylvania: 138 parishes and missions who seek to Know Jesus and Change the World. Before I begin, I would like to thank all the organizers, hosts, translators, and staff. 

You bless me. Sincere thanks to my friend, Canon Anthony Guillen. Always faithful, always fighting the good fight. 

To all in this room from various backgrounds and races, your presence exemplifies the love of this church and the importance of Latino’s in the church. We are all family. We are one. Profound gratitude to those who came before us. Clergy and laity, who fought for equality, raised their voices, who were forgotten, ignored. Like the father of my sister, Sandra - Alejandro Montes.

Those nudged aside and at times - seemingly unwelcome in the Episcopal Church. The seemingly insurmountable walls, where the Kingdom of God was visible only through locked glass doors. Instead of leaving fingerprints on the glass, they pulled and pushed and boldly opened them walked with faith into the church. 

With Christ and courage, led the way. This conference is a testament to their faith. 

Allow me to introduce myself. You know in our culture, it is not where you went to school, where you work - it is where are you from? Quien es tu familia. I am Daniel George Policarpio Gutierrez. I was born and raised in Albuquerque. My family settled at the base of a majestic NM mountain before the U.S. was a hope or dream.

My profound influences were my grandmother Antonia and my father George. She was love. The importance of serving others and an unshakeable faith in God. No matter the crisis, pain or joy - it all was held in the loving hands of God. I can still hear her voice: “no te preocupes mijo, God will take care of us.”

My father grew up dirt poor, as a small child shining shoes at the bar. He taught me to be relentless. To work 10 times as hard as everyone else, in school, at work, because as a Latino that was my only chance. To hold my head up high and that a man can be kind and loving. He took great pride in serving his country as a Marine. He believed in the promise of this country. He loved this country. Out of many, we become one.

The greater good is the common good. That despite this country’s difficulties, the goodness of people, the promise of its birth would always shine as a beacon of hope to the world. I read history; I wanted to be the President of this country. I never felt different. Until one day a fellow classmate at my Catholic High School turned to me and said, “Why don’t you guys go back to where you came from.” 

I looked around for someone standing near me. No one. Then thought, to my house? I understood what he meant. Go back, even though my family has been here forever. Some people viewed me as different. Somehow less than others. Second class and marginalized. The same pain many in this have experienced.

The sin has been inflicted upon females, the LGBT community, the poor, and the list in all its horror can go on. Different. The power, hate, elitism, exclusion, and separation. Attempting to dehumanize and steal the dignity of a person. This happened right after Mass. Really? I can tell you, it was one hell of a fist fight outside of the church. That was long before I found my contemplative, peaceful self. 

One person, one sentence, one act of hate can leave lifelong wounds. Yet despite those who want to destroy dreams, we are often blessed by those saints who lift us up. The recognition that I did not do it alone. A community uplifted me. Would not allow me to fail. They were the face of Christ when I was weak. 

A multi-ethnic community of loving men and women. I was moved by their endurance, strength, and unyielding faith. I also studied with, lived next to, and worked alongside both wealthy and poor brothers and sisters of every race and age. I received their love, support, and friendship.

My models of kindness and love are my wife and father in law: Anglos from the south. They loved me with a deep and pure Christian love. I eagerly wait for you, my new companions on the journey ahead. So with hope, love, community, and Christ, I spent a career in politics and government.

Now, I am blessed to be a shepherd to all of God’s beloved and serve as Bishop of one of the largest dioceses in the Episcopal Church. I sit in the chair of the first Bishop of Pennsylvania. The first Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church William White. My beautiful diocese is resourceful, mission-oriented, willing to give and learn.

The faithfulness to walk with me as their Bishop. Willing to know Jesus and change the world. To take new steps into an exciting future. (For Priests and Deacons - it is a great place to serve. I am looking for co-creators in Christ.) What starts here can change the church. 

Over the next few days, we will laugh, sing, pray and work. This is holy work because this is a transformational moment in the church. You are part of it. You are moving into a sacred space of transformation. Envision a new church, envision a new path.

Like Congressman John Lewis said, “Don’t close your eyes because you are afraid of what you will see. Be honest in your assessment. Transformation and revelation require an adjustment of what we know to what we know can be.” 

Do not settle for anything less than the vision of the beautiful kingdom of God. As you do your work, I want to set something before you. I want to challenge you. This may be a bit controversial. A bit unsettling. The words we use are important. 

For Latinos and for every person of color - we are not an outreach project. We are the church. Latinos are not a ministry. We are the church. We are called to build and in the building we need the materials, the soil and challenges. I love the imagery of the field because we are called as a community to prepare our field. I often say this, but I believe it true.

Everyone likes changes until it actually occurs. But for change to be successful, it has to be strategic and organic. The strategic part is what we are doing this week. We must prepare the field, remove the stones and obstacles, clear out the dead roots, till the soil, bring in new life and nutrients. The organic part is our home communities. 

Because what grows well in Philadelphia may not have the same growth in Miami. What grows well in Miami is not the same soil in Los Angeles, San Antonio, Chicago, Raleigh, Denver. Each community, each church takes their own beautiful seeds for their fields and nurtures, loves, tends and if we all do this - we all share in the abundance.

I also urge you to ban the phrase “it has always been done this way.” It is destructive and the death knell to creativity, abundance, and life. It is also the code word to lock the doors. The church always says that Latino’s are the future. Yet, we do not need words; we need the workers and materials. 

And like our history, if it is not provided, we will find a way to make it happen. The Latino population in the United States reached nearly 58 million in 2016. It is the driver of U.S. demographic growth, accounting for half of national population growth since 2000. There are more Latinos in the United States than Canadians in Canada. More blacks in the Caribbean, Central and South America than blacks in the United States. 

This is no longer a colonial church because we know the power of Jesus Christ has never been confined to a colony. We are more than statistics. I sometimes think we are like that unnamed child in John. Do you remember the one? 

Five thousand people at the foot of Jesus, they are hungry, the apostles are restless, trying to figure out what to do. Jesus in his compassion said to feed them. Then this young, unnamed child comes forth with loaves and fish. Unnamed but always serving Christ and others. 

We are not a ministry, we are the church. 

We need to break down the assumptions. What are a few of the assumptions or comments:

  • Let’s have a Spanish language mass for all the Latinos. 
  • We need a Priest who speaks Spanish. 
  • You don’t speak English well. 
  • What do you mean? You don’t speak Spanish? You have an accent. 
  • Are you Cuban or Mexican? Is there a difference?
  • You don’t look Latino, or we look too Latino. 
  • Your light, your dark, you are black, your Indio. What are you? 

As Bishop, I still encounter them. Let's throw out those questions, the assumptions, the preconceived notions. Be radical and bold. With the diversity, the commonality are extraordinary opportunities. We know the world, we know the people, we know the church. Because we live and walk in two worlds and at times - two church services. We live between heaven and earth Light and darkness.

Yet in-between lies the heart. Our soul is true. This community is comfortable walking in two worlds – we are a bridge to the world. Traditional Thanksgiving dinner with football and then cover the food with red chile. Radio flipped between rancheras, tropical and George Jones or the Rolling Stones. Telenovelas and Downton Abbey. In church, we can sing Rutter and Montana.

We are Caribbean, African, Iberian, North African. Black, brown, white and every shade in- between. We worship in Los Angeles, Dallas, Indianapolis, Miami and every place in between. We are North American, South American, Central American, we are Americans who follow Jesus in the Episcopal Church because we are the church. 

We have the bloodlines of the world. A diversity that colors the rainbow, we have the strength and resilience of history; we have the faith that has carried us on this journey. If it does not begin with us, in the church, then it has little chance for life. We cannot have a museum called the church. No, we have to be a place of life. Where Jesus Christ is tasted, felt, seen and taken out into the streets and communities.

Someone once said that Jesus wanted his disciples to bring heaven to earth. I think that’s why he spent his time forming a community with an alternative, liberated imagination that had the courage and freedom to act in a different vision and a different perception of reality. I think he still wants his disciples to bring heaven to earth, and the question is, “How do we do it?”

It begins, continues and ends with Jesus Christ. I am a bit of an evangelical grounded in the Catholic tradition. Christianity is not primarily a philosophy or a system of ethics or a religious ideology. It is a relationship to the unsettling person of Jesus Christ, to God. The one who rose from the dead – Jesus. To know Jesus is exciting, liberating and changes the world.

Place Jesus at the center of all we do. Let Him inform how we live, what words we will say, how we forgive, how we meet people on their journey. Tell his story, tell people what he means to you. Jesus needs witnesses for the Church. He needs people who have become entirely unconcerned about themselves because they have seen and heard.

How this divine love, this beautiful divine love has forgiven sin, redeemed life and is continually transforming the church in God’s image.  I have faith in Episcopalians, despite the rumors, that we are willing to proclaim our faith, without hesitation or embarrassment. This is Kingdom building.

 People seek meaning, we need beauty. People need us, they need Jesus.

What we have is Jesus Christ, and we always think we need something more. Like Peter in the Acts of the Apostles - all I have is Jesus - stand up and walk. I am asking that we make a commitment to discipleship. In each field, in each context, with the seeds you have available. We need to teach people about Jesus, we need to create disciples.

The church must stop worrying about membership and more about discipleship. This is the first block in building. When we tell and teach the story, it leads to the Kingdom. Tell the story again, again, and again. When we live the story, we are building up God’s Kingdom. There is no limit to what we can do in this world if Jesus indeed is our Lord.

It is the willingness to proclaim Jesus Christ boldly and passionately. The recognition of the humility and love of God found in the stable in Bethlehem. The power, redemption and holy mystery of the Sacred Cross. The abandonment of our past in the discarded burial linens of the empty tomb.

The breathtaking hope and new life of the Resurrection of our Lord. As we know, one person can change the world by giving people hope. Build a community filled with the heart of Christ. Build a community that looks like Christ. Jesus started his ministry by building community. He called disciples and began teaching them about the Kingdom of Heaven.

He used simple things like mustard seeds and pearls. Things people could understand, and he inspired a new way of living. Now, this is hard work because we all think we are open and loving, but there are invisible barriers. How many times have we heard – “we have a welcoming church?” Do we merely welcome or do we create a home?

I cannot speak for long without riling things up. I always had a bit of a problem with “The Episcopal Welcomes You.” Words are important. Welcome designates that this is my house and a welcome can be revoked. We need to create a church of belonging. Belonging designates that if someone is missing from the table, the decisions, the leadership, then something is missing.

At each service, each vestry meeting, each rector’s search, each Bishop’ search we should ask: “Who is not here?” Samuel Johnson once observed, "Mankind more frequently requires to be reminded than informed.” We need to remember and reawaken the truth that lies in their heart - Jesus Christ. We can only do so, face to face, person to person voice to voice.

Being sacredly present and listening. Engage in the sacrament of listening to hear what our brothers and sisters need rather than what want to do or think is best for them. Being a community means living your faith. Never leave the side of Jesus, even when his body is suffering. When you build a community that is centered with the heart of Christ.

One that resembles that beautiful Kingdom of God we cannot be silent, we cannot look the other way, we cannot close our ears to the cries of our brothers and sisters. We are called to live our faith. It is said that we to fail to speak, to bear witness to our commitment, is not the virtue of prudence. It is self-serving expediency.

I do not believe Jesus said, “I suggest you love one another.” Or, “I would really appreciate it.” I think he was serious. Well, he commanded it. The most helpless members of our society need us. Don't fail them! Don't be afraid to speak! Don't let anyone make you ashamed to stand up as a disciple of Christ for all human beings! 

Loving people who can't love you back is no small thing! We know it is hard to go anywhere in the world without your soul, your faith, with Christ accompanying you. This community is for everyone. If something happens to a person in Arizona - it happens to us. If something happens in Puerto Rico. It happens to us. Immigrants, those seeking a better life, the poor in middle America. 

Our hearts have to beat for those who clean the toilets, make the beds in our hotel rooms, and are invisible to others. Those who cry because they cannot feed their children, the public servants working the night shift. Those who cannot pay their mortgage or cannot find decent health care. Those who sleep on the streets of our cities. 

As a community where we are one, we hold those who suffer from gang violence. The elderly, those in the military or a veteran who is silent, the teen who is contemplating suicide because of bullying or because of their orientation.We know a child’s hunger, an elderly’s loneliness, addiction, or pain does not know color or place of origin. If it happens to anyone, it is pain upon our body. Because if we are the church, then we better start acting like it.

In Philadelphia, the 5th largest city, there are many homeless. I was recently in Center City and I watched as people walked by the homeless who would  not look at them. As if they did not exist, they did not smile at the people on the street. Maybe people cannot look at them because our soul as a people is telling us that is inherently wrong. That as a country, as Christians we should be ashamed that one sister, one brother is hurting. 

The church must stop finding ways to keep all our brothers and sisters out.

We must be engaged in going out into the streets. There are millions of people who have not heard the message of Jesus Christ. What are we waiting for? We must go in their language and in their context and meet them in their lives. Where the Kingdom on earth is for everyone. Sick are healed, hungry are fed, the blind see, and the poor have the good news to embrace.

It requires us to reimagine. To subvert the old ways of doing things, to challenge ourselves. To speak up and speak out. Build a community, shake things up, shake things up a lot. Be bold, daring, live with the fire of the early disciples. With Christ comes the dirty hands, the laughter, the tears, the tired feet and loving eyes of Jesus Christ.Let us have the willingness to do whatever it takes to serve God. 

All we have is God and the community we create. 

We also need to make it clear, that the problems in the world, that people’s fears and insecurities, are not because of the poor, the hungry, the stranger, the lost. The problem is that we are not working as a community of humanity in solving what caused this pain.

In this society, I cannot seem to understand when people get so angry when we help others. As if when we help another - they lose something. We need to change that. God was generous with merited grace. God was generous with Jesus. We did not deserve this love. Nothing was lost, everything was gained. For everyone. The final building block is you. Because you are not a ministry. You are the church. 

It is of enormous significance that when Jesus first appeared as a preacher in the hills of Galilee, his theme was “the kingdom of God is at hand!” In other words, in his own person, an entirely new way of ordering things is our call. 

As we walk in two worlds, we need to hold two sides together in one hopeful place. But, there is one thing that is critical in bringing life to the church. Be who you are in all your wonderful beauty. That is all we can do because it is authentic and true. Be you - not what people think we should be. In language, music, prayer, and faith.

Tell your history, your indigenous heritage, your black history, our mutual faith pilgrimage. Write a new story - your story. Speak Spanish. Speak English. Speak both in service. Have one service. Let us commit not to try to fit in but to create new spaces of learning and growing - for everyone. Be what God created you to be.

If we do live in our church as ourselves, our beauty diminishes and the garden withers. Because we have the soil and we have the seeds. We are Americans, we are the Iberian Peninsula, the Caribbean, African, North African, Central America, South America, we are the United States. We carry the blood from all the corners of the earth.

We are Episcopalian, we are Christian. We are not a ministry, we are the church. I passionately believe in the transformative and redemptive power of Jesus Christ. I passionately believe in the courage and faithfulness of his followers. I passionately believe in you. What we do here will change the church and the world.

When people come together in Jesus, in a sacred, holy and open way, that garden we are tending begins to have new life. Flowers start to bloom, colors will awaken, and we walk in this world with the aroma of Christ. Proclaim Christ always and then live it. Let’s push the church to the edges. Let’s move out into the world.

Because we know, the only time the church grows is when it goes. When it goes to the community. When it goes to the poor when it goes to the margins. When it embraces, all those society has pushed aside. Let’s be one community and raise up leaders, laity, vestry members, diocesan leaders, priests and deacons of colors. Let’s support one another.

Let’s ordain Bishops of color. I have great faith in this Episcopal Church. There are far too few women Bishops in the Episcopal Church. But let me share one other fact. In The Episcopal Church, outside of Province 9, there are only two Latino Diocesan bishops.  I am encouraged that Cuba is now part of The Episcopal Church and with that inclusion we gain a Latina bishop. 

There is a Latina Bishop out there, sitting in the audience. You are out there. We need you.  It may take a generation.  The church is waiting. We need you.  You are the church. We cannot change the church unless we are one. We are strong; we withstood the isolation and attacks because we have lived our faith. In my own diocese - Blessed Absalom Jones, the Philadelphia 11. As a church, we fought for the inclusion of all people.

We elected a woman presiding bishop, a black presiding bishop. Let’s make history, let’s write a new story. We are called to this place to envision a new and innovative path forward. Let’s not stop, let’s double our efforts. Be courageous. Push the margins of ministry, try new things, take risks, be innovative and creative. 

I tell my staff often, fail, fail often and fail daringly. Because if we are not failing, we are not trying. 

If people in our own church are building walls - break them down, run through them. Our faith in Jesus is not only in our belief that Jesus, the Son of God, lived long ago, performed great miracles, presented wise teachings and died for us on the cross. He rose from the grave. Jesus lives within us and fulfills his divine ministry in and through us. What you are doing will change the church. You are the church. 

The Welcome Table Ends with the lady thrown out of the church onto the street. Because she did not fit in. She spots the old friend, grins toothlessly, and begins to giggle. It is none other than Jesus, and he is walking toward her. The two of them walk on together. She tells him her troubles, and he listens kindly. Smiling at her warmly. 

Under their feet, the ground becomes like clouds. They walk on without ever stopping. They are home. The people in the church never knew what happened to her.Some said they saw her jabbering to herself and walking off down the highway all alone. "They guessed maybe she had relatives across the river, some miles away. None of them really knew.” 

None of them really knew. Let us make it our call, our work where we sit next to the lady from the welcome table. Then we turn and find Jesus sitting on the other side.Prepare the field, plant the seeds, weather the storms, build community. The work you are doing is collaborating with Jesus. We may not see the fruits for one year or one generation. 

But someday, a child, a family will be blessed and benefit from this work. They will live in a church that you help build. They will look back and say, “that beautiful community working in Kanuga loved me and the church. They knew that my life, my faith is important. They collaborated with Jesus. Those people changed the church.” 

Fear not, he is with you at all time, stand up, speak out, expand the margins and be who God created you to be. Look, the Kingdom of God is at hand.

Change the church, change the world. You are not a ministry, because you, each one of you are the church.

For some reason, I could not attach the footnotes that I attribute to quotes.  Will attempt to fix.  (Gospel passages John 13:35 and John 17:21.  Three citations are attributed to Jim Summerville, Bishop Robert Baron and Governor Mario Cuomo

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