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From Strength to Strength

One of the most comforting prayers in our Prayer Book is the one from the burial office in which we pray that the deceased “may go from strength to strength in the life of perfect service in [God’s] heavenly kingdom.” It is a comfort in its proclamation that God is never done with us – neither in this life, nor in the next. It is a comfort in its confidence that there is always a greater good awaiting us, a good that will triumph over evil, a good that depends only on those things of which each of us is fully capable: loving God and loving our neighbor. It is a comfort in its hope for the future, for the kingdom of heaven, a future we glimpse in every act of mercy, justice, and grace, and which we see fully in the resurrection of Jesus.

The kingdom of heaven is not restricted to a “sweet by-and-by” that awaits us only after this earthly life. It is available to you and me and all of creation today and every day. It breaks into our lives through both our goodness and our brokenness alike, as it did through Christ on both the mountaintop and the cross. It manifests itself in every kind word, every caring, outstretched hand, every voice raised in support of the voiceless, and every just and selfless act.

Over and over, the kingdom of heaven breaks through. God meets us in the present, no matter how unacceptable we may feel we have made it, and calls us always from strength to strength, always into a future that has the potential for greater good. For that reason, the celebrations of the church are always celebrations of what is yet to be, of the kingdom of justice and love that God is dreaming for us to make with our own lives. In each of the celebrations of the church, from baptism to burial, we look to the future with a humble confidence that we can, by God’s grace, go from strength to strength in lives of perfect service, and we say, “We will!”

That is the theological foundation for celebrating the Bicentennial of the Diocese of Ohio. We don’t look back simply to congratulate ourselves on what we and our spiritual forbears have accomplished so far. Rather, we recall our 200-year history, whence we have come and what we have done, only to understand more honestly the present where God is meeting us and from which God is calling us to go from strength to strength, bringing to life God’s kingdom in and through our lives. Our Bicentennial celebrates what is yet to be; it is a personal and corporate rededication to what God is imagining for us. It is, in a very real sense, a great “We will!”

In order to proclaim together “We will!” in a way that includes communicants of all ages and from every parish, we will culminate our Bicentennial year with the 201st Diocesan Convention on November 10-12. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry will be with, as will House of Deputies President Gay Jennings and Vice President Byron Rushing, Bishop Clark and Wendy Grew, bishops from Province V and from our companion dioceses, and many others. The schedule for the weekend is very full, intended to provide multiple opportunities to meet, worship, and celebrate with the Presiding Bishop and one another. Here are some of the highlights:

Friday, November 10

At noon, members of the clergy and all Senior Wardens are invited to have lunch and conversation with Bishop Curry at Trinity Cathedral.

Friday evening there will be dinner and a rehearsal at the Cathedral for choristers and choir members and anyone from across the Diocese who just loves to sing, to form a diocesan-wide choir for the next day’s Convention Eucharist.

Saturday, November 11

Saturday morning at 9:30, the Convention business will commence at the Cleveland Hilton and Convention Center, and conclude at 2:00 to prepare for the Bicentennial Eucharist at 3:00. The Presiding Bishop will be both Celebrant and Preacher.
We will continue with a reception immediately after the service, followed by the Convention and Bicentennial Banquet. There will be music and remarks and surprises, all to be finished by 8:30 so everyone can get home and be prepared for Sunday.

Sunday, November 12

Sunday we will dedicate Bellwether Farm in a celebration open to all, beginning with an opportunity at 9:30 for young people, college students, and young adults to meet with the Presiding Bishop, followed at 11 by a festive, dedicatory Eucharist in the big barn and all-diocese potluck. We will be able to tour the buildings and grounds and meet neighbors, builders, and local community leaders.

The extended schedule is designed to offer everyone the opportunity to come together as a diocese and proclaim a loud and committed “We will!” to all that God is offering us in the next century of our life as the body of Christ in this place. As well, it is intended to be accessible to and affordable for every member of the Diocese, and thanks to a group of generous benefactors we will be able to underwrite a considerable amount of the cost to individuals. The Friday lunch for clergy and Senior Wardens, as well as the choir rehearsal dinner, will be provided at no charge. The Bicentennial reception and banquet will be substantially subsidized, and the base price for hotel rooms for those staying Friday or Saturday night will be only $99. The goals are to engage young people, to assist congregations who often find it difficult to send communicants to diocesan events because of the financial cost, and to inspire individuals to participate in these once-a-century celebrations.

The Bicentennial Planning Committee is graced by honorary co-chairs Bishop Arthur and Lynette Williams and the Reverends Albert and Gay Jennings, and led by the Executive Assistant to the President of the House of Deputies Betsey Bell and Diocesan Archivist Brian Wilbert, and supported by Canon to the Ordinary Bill Powel and Executive Assistant to the Bishop Eva Cole. These dedicated colleagues, supported by countless other volunteers, are continuously tackling the logistics and details of the Convention deliberations, liturgies and worship, Bicentennial Banquet and Bellwether Farm dedication, hospitality and fun.

Whatever your role in our church, however long or short you have been or aspire to be a participant in our Episcopal community of faith, please plan to attend all or part of this celebratory weekend. By your presence, you will help us all to know more fully who we are and what this provocative God is challenging us to do and be in the new century that begins with this 201st Diocesan Convention. We are counting on your encouraging presence and your courageous “We will!” as together we offer ourselves to go, by God’s grace, from strength to strength in lives of perfect service, helping the kingdom of heaven break through.

From strength to strength. November 10-12. I look forward to being with you.

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