Diocesan Convention--2003

There were two Episcopal Addresses to the 45th Annual Convention of the Diocese of Northwest Texas, which met November 7-9 in Amarillo

At the center of these was Bishop Ohl's  Charge to Convention, delivered on the floor of Convention on Saturday, November 8th

Bishop Ohl also preached the Sermon at the Convention Eucharist and Ordination, Sunday, November 9th

These Addresses are reprinted below. Scroll or click on the link to the Address you wish to read.

Charge to Convention * Sermon at Convention Eucharist

There was a Special Diocesan Convention on March 6, 2004
Here is Bishop Ohl's Address to the 2004 Special Convention
A Link to General Convention, 2003 Information



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Bishop Ohl's Charge to Diocesan Convention

November 8th, 2003

The first thing I need to say before I begin the body of my address is to apologize to Pat Russell and Canon Ehmer. To Pat for putting her into the position of having to be my voice as she presides over this convention. To Canon Ehmer for being my "Aaron," as David Veal so aptly put it four years ago, when laryngitis knocked me out of speaking then as today. In case you are not aware of the reference, when Moses was told he would speak to Pharaoh, one of his excuses for not doing so was "I don’t talk too good. God replied, "I will use Aaron as your mouth."  The last time this malady struck, I croaked through the address and did some permanent damage to my larynx. I have chosen this time to be a bit smarter and not do further damage. I also want to apologize to the Convention for the inconvenience this causes for you all. It seems that I come down with an upper respiratory infection every Fall, and sometimes it just happens to coincide with convention. Please God, may this be the last time I am speechless before you.

Several years ago, when the royal family of England was experiencing turmoil and distress, HRH Elizabeth II was quoted at the beginning of the new year as calling the previous year annus horribilis, a horrible year. I know many in the Episcopal Church feel the same way about this year as the queen did that year. Since I left General Convention in early August, I must confess that I have tried to take the weight of the world and that of the diocese, if not the entire Church, on my shoulders. I spoke with a close friend the other day, one who has been for many years a friend on the journey of faith and told him of my sadness, approaching depression. He gave me a great gift. He quoted me back to me. At a time when this friend was floundering I had said to him, "Oh, so the rising of the sun is your responsibility also." I cannot tell you how many times I have said those words to someone who was trying to take responsibility for absolutely everything, even those things over which they/I have no control. Many times in the past three months I have said to those around me "God is still in charge." And I believe this with all my heart and soul and mind. But like most of us human beings, I want to keep as much control as I can, at least in pretense.

After speaking with my friend, I made a decision. I am not going to let others dictate to me my mood, my energy, or my spirituality. Those who would do so, on whatever side of whatever question, are trying to usurp God’s rightful place in my/our souls. A story. When I arrived at Nashotah House in the summer of 1971 I discovered that the annual football game, aptly called the Lavabo Bowl, between Nashotah House and Seabury-Western seminary would be played at Seabury in Chicago. I enquired about uniforms and was told we had a sweat shirt with an appropriate motto–in Latin. The motto said in the best Vatican Latin that could be spoken, "Nolite illigitemos contrere vos." Some of you know this motto by its Vulgate translation, "Non carburundum illigetmi" When Dean Parsons was asked at the site of the annual Lavabo Bowl what the motto said he replied, "Suffer not the Philistines to trample thee underfoot." That is a long story that only begins to illustrate my life today. We must not let the Philistines get to us or we will have participated in our own downfall.

When I first came to NW Texas in May 1997, I set out for myself my hopes and dreams for our time together in this diocese. Being something of an amateur historian, I looked at the history of the diocese to see if I could gain insight into where I might lead us. For almost a century, we were a missionary district with few clergy, low salaries, harsh conditions and little money. The field, however, was ripe for planting congregations and building ministry among the people of the Llano Estacado and the South Plains. After we became a diocese in 1958, some of the missionary zeal waned. My first goal was to hold up mission as my primary emphasis. I had grown up in a small congregation in Chickasha, Oklahoma which from time to time bounced back and forth between being a mission and a parish. I knew small churches from the inside out. But I would not be satisfied with our small churches being smug and self-satisfied with just survival. In the past 6 years many of our small congregations have begun to catch the fire of mission and ministry, not being simply satisfied with maintenance, but actually looking for mission and outreach opportunities. This can be a daunting task in many of our small towns which are drying up and losing population at a staggering rate. But at least some congregations–including our larger churches–are looking to make a difference in the communities where they are called to minister.

My second emphasis was much the same as it had been in the congregations I served as parish priest: Baptismal ministry. In the past four years we have had the able services of Claire Cowden, whose job description includes equipping ministry for individuals and congregations. We probably have more Episcopalians today who can speak of their ministry in precise terms than ever before. We have a number of congregations who are working with Claire and Father Nix in the Panhandle, ably assisted by Father Spannagel, to bring "community ministry" (my term for what others call mutual ministry or total ministry) to fruition.

My third focus–although in reality this has been my first focus throughout my time in ordained ministry–has been stewardship. I feel that this is the area I have accomplished least, although our per capita giving continues to increase, thanks be to God. In addition, in May 2003 our Executive Council unanimously passed a resolution holding the tithe of 10% as our goal for ourselves as individuals and for the leadership of the diocese.

I want to say a bit more about stewardship and tithing. We have heard much in recent months about clear biblical teaching on behaviour. Scripture is absolutely clear that tithing is required it is not an option. It is proof that God’s children rely completely on God, as the tithe comes out of the first fruits, not out of the remainder. Yet most of us have either ignored this clear teaching or made accommodations with the clear biblical teaching. In either case the vast majority of us do not tithe. One of the accommodations I have heard all my life is that tithing is Old Testament and Jesus says nothing about tithing. True, but be very careful. Jesus does not want 10%; he wants 100% of your time, talent, and treasure–a very demanding lifestyle.

Stewardship, with the tithe as the beginning, is our way of life. Tithing is the beginning amount. Anything over the tithe is one’s offering. Did you hear me. The tithe is the expectation, your offering is anything beyond tithing. As far as I am concerned, the tithe should be the amount that goes to the local parish, with offerings made for other good causes.

If every Episcopalian tithed to their parish, the parish could tithe to the diocese, the diocese to the Episcopal Church budget, and believe me we would all be looking for mission and outreach arenas to budget our surplus, not seeking every year to cut budget requests to bare bone minimums.

I would like to put in a plug for an offering opportunity. Three years ago, we began a special fund to finance new mission and ministry within the diocese that could not be covered by the annual budget. I asked every member of the diocese to contribute to the Loaves and Fishes fund $100 if possible, or $50 or $25 or whatever. If every member contributed only $25 each year we would have over $200,00 to consider miraculous work within our diocese. We have never reached more than about $35,000 in our coffers, but we have indeed funded some new mission and ministry. On your tables are envelopes and cards for Loaves and Fishes should you be willing to contribute today. I have my annual check for $200 for Sheila and me. Edna, where are the collection containers for Loaves and Fishes? I want to encourage you to begin living sacrificially, going beyond the tithe to the parish and providing funding for any number of new mission and ministry opportunities.

Following the General Convention, I began to get email and snail mail from many parishioners across the diocese who simply cannot accept a partnered gay man as a bishop. Some individuals and families left their congregations immediately, others waited until after the American Anglican Council meeting in early October, others following the Primates meeting, and still others since last Sunday afternoon. Some of the mail spoke of cutting off funds to the diocese and the Episcopal Church budget as a way of punishing "those people" who did this to our beloved Church. In looking at the potential budget short-fall, it became apparent that we could lose as much as 40-50% of our income for next year. At that level, most of our mission and ministry development work would be completely halted. Program would be non-existent. Staff would be cut. BQCC could be in jeopardy of closing. It was a bleak, depressing picture that was being painted out on our canvas in NW Texas. This was the genesis of my depression, fueled by the loss of relationships that have been forged over years and decades by you and your forebears.

We have a resolution before us later this afternoon, and the appropriate substitute amendment, that may help alleviate for 2004 some of the budgetary issues for NW Texas. The substitute resolution permits individuals to designate that the portion of their pledge which would go to the Episcopal Church budget be held at the local level to fund mission and ministry opportunities. You received a letter from Bob Bledsoe saying that I supported this resolution. Now, I have a difficult time calling what I hope we will pass this afternoon as a stewardship resolution. It is more properly fund raising. I could see in August that if we did not have a mechanism for some individuals to register their protest, the worst case scenario would be more likely than not. If you choose to accuse me of cowardice in supporting this resolution, so be it. I believe this will give us a full year to see how our diocese will be impacted by budget cuts from losses of parishioners.

Because we will not be able to know just how much our budget will be impacted until late January, I am calling for a special convention, to take place on Saturday March 6th at St. Paul’s on the Plains in Lubbock. During February, your budget committee will make whatever adjustments will need to be made, based on hard data and not "best wild guess." We will begin at 10:00 AM and conclude, hopefully, no later than 2:00 PM. You, or your counterparts, will have the proposed new budget no less than a week before the 6th of March for your perusal.

Most of you are aware that I took a sabbatical from December 1st to May 1st past. One of the goals I had was to discover more about my grandfather, the Rev. John Wallace Ohl, who by the way went by Wallis. I knew he had been ordained in Colorado and that he had read for orders, but I did not know where or when ordained, or who his mentors were. In order to get some specific data, I went to the Episcopal Church Archives, housed at the ETSSw in Austin. For a week I read diocesan convention journals, including Bishop Spalding’s addresses to convention. I would guess that none of his addresses were less than two hours–at least I try to spare you that much verbiage. Reading journals from 1880-1905 brought more than glimmers of recognition. Colorado in those days was still considered the end of the earth. Good clergy were hard to come by. Financial tragedies struck more frequently than not. Mission and ministry occasionally had to be delayed because of lack of funds. Earlier this week I went back and re-read some of my notes from my research and was struck by the similarity of their financial situation to ours today. That may be the second strongest reason for setting my face forward. The first is that is what God is calling me to do.

We have mission and ministry to be about in NW Texas. November 2nd has come and gone and Jesus did not release any of us from our baptismal covenant. We still have the Great Commission before us. Tomorrow we will hear about a widow who put more into the Temple treasury that all of the rich people of Jesus’ day. We have Good news to proclaim. We have broken hearts to bring healing to. We have ministry among and for one another. We have work to do. I ask you to step out in faith with me as we move into another chapter of our life together. I have said again and again, "I am and Episcopalian; I am going no where. I was baptized in this communion and I will be buried from the communion of the Episcopal Church–not too soon I trust." We may have some difficult days ahead, but if I have learned nothing else from reading history, it is that the Church thrives in difficult times, and becomes complacent in fair times.

When I was in the Marine Corps we had a saying, "we do more with less that anyone on earth." We were expected to perform with or without the benefits that other services had. That was good preparation for today. We may well be a bit lean in the budget for the coming year, but we will do all God is calling us to do in whatever way we can. More with less.

Well, brothers and sisters, the difficult times are here. Are we going to allow the enemy to beat us down, or are we willing to pick up our cross and follow Jesus? To quote Joshua, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." Will you follow?


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Sermon at Convention Eucharist and Ordination of a Deacon
November 9th, 2003






Our Gospel lesson this morning brings us one of the best known stories of the New Testament: the widow’s mite. All across the Episcopal Church today, sermons are being preached about stewardship, about giving sacrificially, about living into the life Christ has given us. All of this is necessary to hear, and more importantly, necessary to live. I will have more to say about that in a moment.

Today, here at St. Andrew’s, we have a task at hand that fits right into the Gospel lesson–all of the lesson, not just the story of the widow. Our work today, is two fold: first we are to dedicate, consecrate, and ordain Christopher Kent Wrampelmeier to the Sacred Order of Deacons. Then we, as the Body of Christ, will celebrate the death, resurrection, ascension, and presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist–the assurance of our nurture in our Lord himself.

The Gospel reading from Mark is taken from the extended teaching of Jesus in the Temple grounds during the week following the triumphal entry on "Palm Sunday" and before his arrest late Thursday night. He has challenged the temple authorities, driven out the money changers, argued with the Scribes and Pharisees, and taught the ordinary people.

As the lesson begins we hear Jesus warn about the privilege and prestige of the Scribes. The first charge Jesus levels at them is vanity, which here amounts to little more than enjoying the perks of the office. They get to wear long robes–referring perhaps to the broad phylacteries and long tassels which distinguish them from the ordinary folks. (Did it say vestments?) They are addressed with honorific titles such as "Father" "Master", and "Rabbi". They get preferred seats at the synagogue and at feasts. Some sources tell us that it became something of an ornament to have a scribe present at a feast and that this person would be given the highest place of honor. I don’t know about the other clergy present this morning, but this exhortation makes me VERY uncomfortable. Virtually all of that applies to us in our modern culture. The question arises, "How does this portray servanthood?"

Jesus second accusation is far more serious. He condemns those who devour widows’ homes while making pretense of being pious with long prayers. Perhaps some of the scribes had taken vows of poverty but sponged off widows, accepting, even demanding, hospitality from those who could least afford it. Jesus juxtaposes the lack of compassion with hypocritical piety.

Without missing a beat, Mark tells us that Jesus, from his vantage point across the path from the treasury, points out a widow who has just put all she had into the treasury for the support of the religious establishment–in a sense, paying for the vanity and hypocrisy which Jesus has just condemned. He calls attention to one who had nothing and who had no intrinsic worth in the community. Here is a woman forced to live off handouts from either her own family or the generosity of others. Yet she who has virtually nothing is willing to give to others. If that does not make all of us ashamed of our own stinginess in giving, nothing will. Again I want to ask the question posed a moment ago, "How does this portray servanthood

In the 13th Chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus, having washed the feet of his disciples, asks "Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you ." "How does this portray servanthood?"

For me there are only two postures that symbolize our Lord, His life and ministry, and our life and ministry which signifies His life in us. The first posture is a kneeling servant: one who is willing to bow down and perform the most menial and degrading task for others. The other is a cruciform shape, portrayed in that wonderful prayer in Morning Prayer written by Bishop Brent of the Philippines about the turn of the 20th century, " Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that EVERYONE might come within the reach of your saving embrace."

Since New Testament times, the Church has set apart certain of its members for particular tasks. Some are called to be icons of servanthood for us. These are the deacons. Too often we have considered deacons to be the ONLY servant–doing all of the servant ministry for a congregation. This is unconscionable. We, the Body of Christ, are called to be servants. The deacons in our midst are to be servant leaders, challenging us, encouraging us, exhorting us, cajoling us, whatever it takes for ALL of us to grasp more fully each day our ministry as servants in Christ’s ministry. It makes absolutely no difference what form our ministry takes, whether it is lived out within the confines of the church building, in our jobs, on the street, with a homeless shelter, at our own sumptuous homes. Wherever we are, we have the opportunity to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ–to be, in fact, both the kneeling servant and the one whose arms are spread to embrace Christ in everyone we meet.

Let’s return to the widow for just a moment. I am convinced that Jesus picks her out of the crowd to bring a teachable moment to his disciples. He points to a woman, almost a non-human life form in that day and time, to hold up as an example of sacrificial living. In a very real sense, as He moves toward His own sacrificial giving in just a few days, Jesus is trying to show his disciples–and us–what real life is about. Each of them, the nameless widow and Jesus, have looked death in the face and determined that death will not be victorious. Each is willing to serve the world by giving all they have–the widow her two copper coins and Jesus his life. "How does this portray servanthood?"

The question for all of us here today is a question of our own lives. Are we willing to give our lives, all that we have, as servants of the one who came to serve? Are we willing to move one step, one inch further on the path that takes us to Christ Jesus’ model of life and ministry? How will we–you and I together portray servanthood?

Chris, please stand. It is the time in an ordination sermon where a charge is made to the ordinand, and this charge is for you. You are called by God and this Church to be set apart as a deacon for the rest of your life. Show us the servant that you are by being open to give yourself away. But as the old saying goes, don’t spend it all in one place. You have first the responsibility to God in prayer. Spend yourself fervently in prayer. Your second responsibility is to your family. You are to spend yourself with and for them as their servant. Your third responsibility is to bridge the gap between the Church and the world. Call us to use our resources in service of others, and tell the world the gifts are from Christ Himself. And finally, you are to give yourself to the joy and exuberance of living in God’s creation.

One of the oldest meanings in Hebrew of the word we translate as ordain is literally "to fill the hands." Your hands will be filled with the Holy Scriptures in a moment; let it also fill your heart and mind. Your hands will be filled with a Chalice and Paten as you set the Altar; let those vessels also fill your soul. Your hands will be filled in more ways with more gifts than you can imagine; but keep them open for God’s gifts from His unbounded treasury.

You cannot be a servant alone. Bring us with you to serve.



Bishop Ohl's Charge to Diocesan Convention

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Address to The Special Diocesan Convention
March 6, 2004

My dear Brothers and sisters in Christ. At the Diocesan Convention in Amarillo, on November 8, 2003, my address which was read by Canon Mike Ehmer, included these words: "I am calling for a Special Convention, to take place on March 6th 2004 at St. Paul’s on the Plains." The call was to deal with adjustments to the budget that might be necessary resulting from reactions to General Convention resolutions in August 2003 and the resulting shortfalls that could occur. In addition, at our convention in Amarillo, we passed a resolution that allowed individuals to designate that the portion of their pledge to the local congregation that would be sent to the diocese as the apportionment and then passed on to the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society–also called the "national church" by some–could be withheld or redirected from DFMS to mission and ministry projects. The resolution as passed contained an amendment which directed that the funds would be disbursed by the diocese. Today as we meet we have a single agenda: to deal with the budget amendment in two resolutions. We have no other business before us today.

The first resolution, which comes from the budget committee, is to amend the budget to include a line item that allows for the disbursement of the redirected funds. In the budget we passed on November 9th there was a single line item for the DFMS asking. This resolution splits the DFMS asking into two lines: the first continues the DFMS asking at the reduced figure and the second is the total of the redirected funds to be disbursed. You were sent the spread sheet that includes the congregational percentages and amounts that were requested by individuals to be redirected. The total amount of redirected funds is $72,607.81, and the amount to be sent to DFMS is $156,511.19. Together they add up to the original amount of the approved budget of $229,119.00.Together they add up to the original amount of the approved budget.

The second resolution, which also comes from the budget committee, contains the recommendations as to how to expend the redirected funds. As the budget committee met on February 26, our first priority was to set some parameters as to how these funds might be spent. Our first decision was to spend 50% for outreach outside the diocese, and 50% for mission and ministry within the diocese. Our second decision was not to fund regular budget items that may have been cut, since funding from a special fund could signal that these funds would be available in future year’s budgets. Next we decided that we would not fund any "bricks and mortar" asking. We also decided we would not fund salaries, since to fund such items may mean a cut in staff next year if the necessary funding was not available. In essence we looked at this funding as a one time grant for mission and ministry and outreach. No one was 100% satisfied with the outcome, as we all had our favorite project or projects which either were not funded at all or cut somewhat in total dollar amounts. However, at the close of the day we could all sign off and say our yes to the resolution.

I ask that as we move forward today we keep in mind two things. First: we are the Body of Christ gathered to do the work of Christ in the world. As we debate the resolutions please keep your remarks focused to the topic at hand. Address your comments to the chair and not to other members of this convention. Remember that we are all baptized into the one Christ who calls us to be servants. If you disagree with someone, look for the face of Christ in that one with whom you disagree. Do not impute motives to others. Let our conversation and debate be a reflection of the life we have in the Risen One who saves us all.

Second: We are here for a limited time today. Please try not to echo only what others already have said. As you address convention make your comments cogent and terse and to the point at hand. Every one who wishes to speak must come to the microphone located _______. State your name and the congregation you represent or serve and proceed with your comments. But again, please refrain from attempting to make a long speech. As chair I am the only one who gets to make long speeches today.

The last comment I want to make has to do with the concern that what we are deciding today could have been resolved by the Executive Council. That is absolutely true. However, it is my opinion that this is of such import, of such concern for the entire diocese, that I believe that we should make this decision together as the diocese of Northwest Texas in convention.

I appreciate your giving up a day of your life for the ongoing life of the Church in this diocese. I deeply appreciate all that each of you does to proclaim the Good News of God in Christ by word and deed. And I thank you for your prayers for me personally, for the prayers you offer daily for your clergy and leadership, and for your commitment to our Lord and Saviour.

Now on with the business at hand.


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Links From and About General Convention, 2003

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Bishop Ohl's Pastoral Letter from General Convention