By the Rt. Rev. Anne Hodges-Copple
I have become overly dependent on my GPS system. I use it even when I am going someplace familiar, just to see if there are any detours or traffic congestion that will affect travel time. GPS is particularly handy when traversing our broad and diverse diocese on Sunday mornings. I wake usually before dawn, put the coffee on, hope I’ve assembled all the appropriate paraphernalia and then hit the road. With the touch of a screen I have my route, and then off I go, prepared with an estimated time of arrival and warnings about any slowdowns or other impediments ahead.
[The Rt. Rev. Anne Hodges-Copple, seated, is pictured with three generations of her family. Photo courtesy of Anne Hodges-Copple]
Even with the wonders of verbal instructions from one’s GPS, there are still good occasions and reasons to have a navigator. Sometimes I am that navigator, eager to look miles ahead and see, first, if there are there any problems ahead and, second, if there are any alternative routes that be might more interesting, even if slightly longer.
When looking down the road a bit on Google Maps, a box will pop up offering to “re-center.” In other words, I have a reminder as well as a signal to get back to the present moment in the journey. Navigation is a calculus of being both aware and mindful of the present circumstances but also looking ahead with curiosity.
In my spiritual journey as a pilgrim toward the kingdom of heaven, I have reached a moment for recentering. I am feeling a shift in my energy and a new sense of calling, a change in the wind that needs time and attention in the present in order to discern the direction for the future. I need to prepare for a new season, even while I love the season in which I am. I love this diocese. I love almost everything about my duties and roles as your bishop suffragan. I have served 35 years as an ordained person, all in this diocese if you include the years since my first ordination. This call to recenter is inviting me to step back, taking time in prayer and quiet and stillness, to discern how I can best serve God in the years ahead. Once a bishop always a bishop, but, after December 31, I will be the VI Bishop Suffragan of the Diocese of North Carolina, resigned.
WITNESS TO WONDER
Because of the front-row seat I’ve had for the last nine years, I am wildly optimistic about the future of this diocese. I’ve had the privilege and blessing of working alongside three of the finest bishops The Episcopal Church has ever known: The Most Rev. Michael Curry, the Rt. Rev. Peter Lee and the Rt. Rev. Sam Rodman. I was present at General Convention when marriage equality became not only the law of the land but also the teaching of our church. I was present in the House of Bishops when we elected Michael Curry Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church. I was present when Saint Augustine’s University installed their first ordained woman as Dean of the Chapel and Director of Religious Life, as well as when the Rev. Hershey Mallette Stephens followed the Rev. Nita Byrd as Dean of the University Chapel.
In the last nine years I have witnessed the creation of new Episcopal communities, founded and grounded in Jesus’s commandment to “feed my sheep.” The North Carolina Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and our diocese recentered our focus on evangelism and church planting by co-founding a new mission, Christ’s Beloved Community/Comunidad Amado de Cristo, in Winston-Salem. The Rev. Tim Smith, bishop of the ELCA North Carolina Synod, and I shared in the inaugural confirmations, paving the way for the new mission to enter into communion with our diocesan convention as well as to be recognized as a mission in the Synod.
I was present when a small group of energetic deacons in Charlotte asked the Diocese to hold off selling the recently closed St. Andrew’s and enter a discernment process for a new vision. We spent time listening to numerous community voices and then recentered the buildings and grounds to serve the immediate needs of new residents of the community who fled hardships in their countries of origin to find a new life in the United States. The mission of God expressed in the values of Becoming Beloved Community, previously expressed in Bishop Curry’s call to “Go to Galilee,” became embodied in the Galilee Ministries of East Charlotte. I believe there are more new communities in our future as well as revitalized churches, ready to tend and feed God’s beloved in refreshed ways.
As a companion on the Way of Love, it has been a joy to sit with the lay and ordained leaders every Sunday and discern the holy work of discipleship in the mix and muddle of parish life. In the name of evangelism that takes local context into account, our local churches are embracing innovations to go beyond the church doors and some restrictive and patronizing notions of outreach.
I’ve watched and sometimes nudged—and sometimes been nudged—to see innovation not as an enemy to our sacred traditions but as a wonderful tool for conveying our traditions. We have learned that some innovations, such as access to dependable and robust broadband, actually expand our capacity to share the love of Jesus and the power of the Word of the Lord. Innovations might be a new technology or a new methodology, such as discovering new ways to plant new Episcopal communities. Like the insertion of a shunt to improve blood flow to a beating heart, innovation allows us to be less focused on institutional survival and more centered upon walking with Jesus on the road to Emmaus, coming alongside other weary travelers and receiving new sight and hearts strangely warmed.
I cannot even begin to describe the joy I have felt every Sunday when I visit one of our 118 worshipping communities. I often attend community celebrations in places like Wilson or Pittsboro or the Episcopal Farmworker Ministry in Newton Grove and witness Episcopalians setting tables of hospitality in the wilderness.
ANSWERING THE CALL
So, given all this, why retire? Good question. I’m not sure I have a good answer. What I think is happening is anticipation of a new season while still enjoying the present season. On most Sundays, the bishop’s visit is treated as a special occasion, and that’s a lot of fun. But something in my spirit longs for Ordinary Time, that season between the high-energy drama of Pentecost and the anticipatory energy of Advent, but in terms of my own lifespan.
Many of you know I hold a special affinity for the Holy Family of Bethany: Mary, Martha and Lazarus. In the 12th chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus returns to their household, just days before his arrest, torture and crucifixion. He chooses the hospitality of this home, not far from the walled city of Jerusalem, to find refuge, comfort, solace and strength.
I feel called to refocus upon my own household as a place of Christian hospitality, healing and sanctuary for the weary. I want to be more available in my vocations of wife, mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law for the small and hard moments of life, not just the grand occasions that mark rites of passage. I want to become a better practitioner of the small domestic arts for providing a port in the storm—for family, friends and even strangers who may become friends. Being outside gardening has become a very strong draw in my life. I want to have time to follow through as an ally and advocate for the great and holy work of all forms of healing reconciliation, both racial and environmental.
In all the recentering, the most important component is prayer: recentering my spiritual practices that sometimes feel more wedged into the mix of daily life rather than its wellspring. In the early stages of retirement, I plan to seek lots of quiet to hear God more clearly and answer God’s new calls more faithfully.
I will never stop being your bishop in the sense of prayer and care for you and this beloved diocese. I will participate at the margins and try to be helpful when and where Bishop Rodman invites me to do so. I will continue to renew my baptismal covenant over the course of the church year, except now I’ll be among and beside you in the pews. While it has been the greatest honor and privilege of my life to share in the episcopate of this diocese, it is an even greater blessing to remain your sister in Christ and continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers of the people.
The Rt. Rev. Anne Hodges-Copple is the bishop suffragan of the Diocese of North Carolina.
Tags: North Carolina Disciple