Well friends, Saturday was a pretty big day for us. It was a big day for the Diocese of Rhode Island, and it was a big day for the Episcopal Conference Center. On Saturday we ordained W. Nicholas Knisely as the 13th Bishop of this Diocese. And on Saturday, our brand new Bishop – just after having been ordained and vested in his cope, mitre, and ring – stood in front of the congregation gathered and offered his first words to the Diocese of Rhode Island, asking that they give generously to the offertory because he had designated the money to go to ECC. He continued, saying that youth ministry is important and will be a priority in this Diocese moving forward, and that one of the best ways to support youth ministry here in RI is by supporting the ministry of ECC.
I was sitting in the very front row of the RI clergy gathered up on the stage when he said it, and I admit to a range of feelings: gratitude, elation, awe, excitement, and just the slightest bit of panic. The fact is that when I took this job I was trying to step off the beaten path that most priests travel. I was tired from parish ministry, and I liked the idea of taking a little part-time job up at the summer camp I loved so dearly. I knew there was plenty of work to do and I was happy to do it, but I was also looking forward to being in a job that was kind of off the radar. I could be with teenagers and other members of the ECC family, enjoy the summers of fullness and vitality, add a few programs to the winter, and generally keep my head down. But here we are now, with a new Bishop who believes that youth ministry must be a priority for the church, and who feels comfortable putting his full support behind our ministry. And suddenly our little summer camp is being highlighted as a vital and important ministry in our Diocese (which it is – of course!). This turn of events is SO wonderful… and it makes me kind of want to crawl into bed with the covers over my head and never come out.
Bishop Knisely’s confidence in ECC overwhelms me. I am at once hopeful and petrified. There is still much to be done to bring ECC to where it needs to be physically, financially, and administratively. And as passionate as I am about this ministry and the good that we do, it’s also easy to think only of the work that lies ahead. So the temptation to hide from it all certainly exists.
However, I’m finding that more than I’m tempted to hide, I’m tempted to dance. I’m tempted to throw my hands up and celebrate that at the Episcopal Conference Center we change lives. We bring people – young and old – closer to God. And we have an enthusiastic new Bishop who wants to help us continue to make that happen. So I don’t want to hide – I want to rise to the occasion. I want to give my very best to this ministry, and to this Diocese, and to the ECC community and see what God’s dream is for all of us in this mighty little state. Bishop Knisely’s confidence in us gives me more confidence, and that’s a reason to start dancing.
That said, the Bishop and me being excited to support ECC isn’t enough. We absolutely need all of you to help. Over the past few years we have been lucky enough to have a core group of volunteers and staff who have given of their time, talent and treasure. We have seen that core group grow over the last few months. But I know there are hundreds, if not thousands of you out there who have been impacted by your time at ECC and who have a tremendous amount of love and care for the place. I am so grateful for that care. Today I’m going to ask you – boldly – to do more than just care about ECC. I’m going to ask you to support ECC and the Diocese in some very tangible ways.
First – always first – I’m going to ask for your prayers: for ECC and for the Diocese and especially for Nick. The job of bishop is a difficult one, and while we are in the midst of an exciting new beginning right now there will be days when sharing our love for one another may not come as easily. Your constant prayer for him will help, and backing up that prayer with your words and actions will make a huge difference. He needs your support so that he can continue to support the many ministries, churches, and people of this diocese.
Second, I ask for your presence. We had a decent showing of the ECC community at the ordination, but at future events I would like to see our community show up for our Bishop the way he is showing up for us. I want the rest of the Diocese to see that we are strong in spirit and in number and that we are willing to be present as witnesses to the good work of our camp and of our wider church. Being part of the camp community is about more than just showing up in the barn to remember our own experiences there – it’s about being part of the larger Body of Christ as it is moving and changing in Rhode Island. Being part of the camp community means that we have been completely transformed, and Christ’s message to us is clear – once transformed, it is our work in the world to share that Good News with others. But in order to do that, we need to show up.
Third, I’m going to ask you to give. The Diocese has been supporting ECC financially since its inception, and it has kept its commitment to do so even in recent years when they faced financial difficulty of their own. Bishop Knisely has already promised to continue to support us financially and then some. Episcopal Charities has also been exceedingly generous to us over the years, providing funding that made it possible for us to remain open and serving the young people in this state and beyond. But we cannot rely on the Diocese and Episcopal Charities alone. They need to be free to help and support other ministries that may not have the benefit of a strong and supportive community like we have. And while they do not plan to yank our funding in any way, now more than ever, we must continue to do our part to help keep this ministry thriving for generations to come. In the coming weeks we will have a new website and database for ECC, and those resources will allow ECC supporters to easily donate money. You will (I promise!) hear more about that, but in the days following this exceedingly generous gift from our Bishop and Diocese, I want you to consider how you might help sustain this financial abundance. If you already give to your church or to Episcopal Charities, that is also a gift to camp, and we ask you to continue or even increase that giving. Shortly, you will be receiving information on ways to give directly to ECC through our website. We must continue to change and transform lives at ECC. We must.
When I first started this job I met with Sara Clarke, our part-time marketing and development person for camp (and the person who has put in countless hours to get our data base in place). While we sat together at Whole Foods she pushed a sticker across the table at me. “Here,” she said, “I got this for you.” I found myself looking at the sticker you see at the top of this post. NOW IS THE RIGHT TIME. “It seemed appropriate,” she continued, “because I really feel like this is going to be a wonderful chapter for camp.”
At the time I hoped she was right. But after this weekend, I’m sure that she’s right. Friends, now is the right time. Wonderful ministry has been happening at ECC for years and years, and for a time now there has been some uncertainty as to whether or not that ministry could continue. But you have already showed up to help, and I expect that you will continue to do so. And our new Bishop is going to show up. And I am going to show up. And most importantly, God (as always!) is going to show up. And I have every confidence that good, good things are in store for our little summer camp in Pascoag. So please – help us make this happen.
Now is the right time.
Photo by Ruth Meeter