“Our slogan ‘The Episcopal Church Welcomes You’ is not enough; we need to learn to seek and invite.”
In his final diocesan convention address to the Diocese of Montana, the Rt. Rev. C. Franklin Brookhart, Jr., summarized the past hurts and his future hopes for the future of the Episcopal Church in the Big Sky state. I “leave a firmly Christocentric diocese that is learning to live more into the resurrection,” he said at the close of his 16 years as bishop.
The 114th Annual Convention adopted a $658,284 budget funded in part by a 19 per cent assessment of parish income. In his 5 Oct 2018 presidential address delivered at St Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Polson, MT, Bishop Brookhart cited the highlights of his episcopacy including the creation of Native American ministries, the introduction of the vocational diaconate, and the development of Camp Marshall.
With 34 congregations, the Diocese of Montana reported for 2017 there were 4,495 active members and an average Sunday attendance of 1,380. The largest parish, St James in Bozeman had an ASA of 161 while the smallest, St Andrews in Phillipsburg had an ASA of 4.
Bishop Brookhart noted: “We have fewer churches than when I arrived here, but we are working with more members. The large majority of our churches are in pretty good to excellent shape.”
He believed the next bishop “needs to work with you in the area that no one wants to talk about, namely, evangelism,” he said. “Our slogan ‘The Episcopal Church Welcomes You’ is not enough; we need to learn to seek and invite.”
“I have learned over these past years is that nothing stunts and shrivels churches faster that internal conflict as well as grousing and complaining. But evangelism must become part of who we are: inviting, sharing, reaching out,” Bishop Brookhart said.
He noted the early years of his episcopacy were focused on healing surrounding the departure of his predecessor, the Rt. Rev. Charles “Ci” Jones III. Elected Bishop in 1986, Bishop Jones resigned in 2001 after he was deposed from office for sexual misconduct by the Court for the Trial of a Bishop. “My first five-to seven years were spent largely in listening to you. Because of the injuries of the past I had many stories to hear. I tried to listen with sympathy and patience. After a time it became clear to me that the boil had been lanced and healing was in process.”
There was “no need to revisit the past, no need to unpack it again. What you need to learn to do is this: let the past be the past,” the bishop said.
Bishop Brookhart said he had worked hard to overcome the challenges of isolation and distance in the “geographically huge state.”
“Email is great, and video conferences help but nothing can match face-to-face time. It’s up to you really,” he said, adding “Remember that you can’t be a Christian alone, and your congregation is not complete without other congregations”
The emptying of rural America was hurting many parishes. “We have to talk about the decline of small towns all over the country and about the effects on churches,” he said noting “I have no quick or simple solutions, except to say that the Lord calls us to ministry wherever we find ourselves, always trusting in the paschal mystery. I do not have much confidence in programs and techniques. … I have lived through management by objective, transactional analysis, family systems, Alpha, public narrative, appreciative inquiry, etc. I have learned from all these, as I suspect at least of you have, too. They are aids, but not THE answer.”
“As we say, this in not rocket science,” Bishop Brookhart said. “Proclaim the Good News. Treat each other well. Pray often and long, Care for the community around you, especially the outcasts and the overlooked. Trust that the sacraments work. Be grateful and generous. And then Jesus will use all these things which we offer, and will make resurrection out of them,” he told the convention.