Have you heard the joke about the Mayor and the Bishop?
Normally, those types of jokes start along the lines of, “Have you heard the joke about the priest, the rabbi and the minister?” …and I’ve always wanted to suggest that maybe there is a way to have a joke about the Bishop and the Mayor.
However, today I have to tell you that, while we shared lots of laughs over the past few years, nothing about the work that Bishop Wolf has done in and for our Diocese could be considered to be a joke.
In thinking about what to say today, I thought about how I came to be in this spot. As a lifelong Episcopalian, I had been involved somewhat in Diocesan activities. But my involvement has increased a lot over the past several years, and it all stared when Bishop Wolf asked me to serve on the Committee on Resolutions. I didn’t even know what that Committee did, but she convinced me to be part of it.
From there it was a short trip to becoming a member of the Ecclesiastical Trial Court, the honorary chairman of the Episcopal Charities Fund and a member of Diocesan Council.
Through all of those activities an image of a thoughtful, principled leader became the way I viewed Geralyn Wolf. And the more I worked with her, the more my respect for her, and my support for her vision for the Diocese deepened. So it’s no surprise that when she and the late Ed Bennett asked me to run for an open seat on the Standing Committee, I immediately said yes. And, after a year on the Standing Committee, working closely with the Bishop to work through a number of different issues on church mergers, church polities and the like, I was elected the president.
And that’s really where the journey that led us to this day began. A month after becoming president, I went in to meet with the Bishop and, at the end of the meeting, she pulled out a folder and said, “Now I need to talk to you about something else.” And in January of 2011, I learned that the Bishop was going to announce her retirement in March.
I was, of course, concerned about what she intended to do and, quite honestly, I was petrified about what I was about to have to do. Two months later, the Bishop announced at convocation her intent to retire and we began a process that has led to the election of Bishop-Elect Knisley.
In retrospect, to most people it must have seemed like a very easy period of time and transition for the Diocese. The truth is, it’s enough material for a book. Who would have ever thought that, by accepting the Bishop’s request to serve the Diocese, I would learn the process of electing and consecrating a Bishop, of merging parishes, of removing a priest from service, or serving as the chancellor? Yet, through it all, Geralyn Wolf and Tom Bair provided the right amount of leadership, guidance and pastoral care to allow all of us to do our jobs.
When I think of the legacy of Gerry Wolf, I see an empowering, gifted leader who, although she had an opinion on issues, always listened to other points of view and really strove to reach consensus. While other Dioceses were being pulled apart amidst stories of breakaway parishes, Bishop Wolf used her talent to ensure that any separations were done with kindness, and an ability to return.
Whether closing parishes, changing parishes to missions, or assisting parishes as they merged, Bishop Wolf consistently put the thoughts and needs of the individuals in the pews first and foremost. You all know that religion is intensely emotional and personal for most people. Yet it would be all too easy to administer a Diocese without concern to that emotion. We have been blessed to have a leader who allowed emotion a place at the table while making sure that cooler heads always prevailed.
There are lots of similarities to our jobs. Just as a Bishop is responsible for leading a faith community, meeting the needs of those in spiritual and personal crisis and ensuring the viability of the church, so, too, is a Mayor responsible for the overall good of his community, assuring its stability, and addressing the myriad needs of a diverse group of residents and businesses. And, as faith organizations and municipalities work together as partners for the overall good, those roles sometimes intertwine. The Bishop and I always found an ability to learn from one another’s perspectives. And I know that my staff at City Hall, if ever on Jeopardy, hopes that the category for the Daily Double is “Facts about the Episcopal Church."
We have all learned to be stronger in faith and deeper in purpose from the example of ministry that we learned from Gerry Wolf.
Today the Diocese says thank you and presents you, Bishop, with a long-awaited trip to the
Holy Land. On
behalf of the Standing Committee, I thank you for your steadfast belief in the
future of the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island and in your never-ending
optimism that good people will always prevail.
Today, I’m sure, brings many emotions with new beginnings and the closing of different chapters of life.
I will remind you what you said to me right before you walked to the west door of
St. Paul’s to begin the
Celebration of the Eucharist to start the electing convention that chose your
successor. When I asked you your feelings that day and whether they were
bittersweet, you flashed your trademark grin and you told me that it wasn’t
time to be bittersweet. Instead, you looked at the congregation and you
reminded me that we were in a church full of people and those people were
filled with hope and enthusiasm for the future. Pawtucket
Well, those people today are full of gratitude, and still brimming with hope and enthusiasm. For that, we owe you a great big thank you.