The Rt. Rev. Gregory H. Rickel, VIII Bishop of Olympia
Diocesan Convention Address
October 21, 2022
“Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea.”
I have to say that line just jumped out at me this time. In fact, like a lot of lines I pick up in the Gospel, both the Gospel from the big book itself and ours in the Gospel of life, it most likely has always been there, but this time, during this time in my life, that line just jumped out. Now, most of you in this room have known me long enough to know full well, and believe me I know it better than any of you, that I am in no way, on any day, at any time, to be compared to Jesus. And yet, I thought, when I saw those words, “That is what I am about to do, go out of the house, and sit beside the sea. Another sea, in another place.” It even says Jesus got into a boat and sat there, and I can tell you, I intend to do a lot of that too.
But mostly, this made me think of the metaphor of a house. There are so many in our lives. There is the house that is our body, in scripture it is even called a temple for our soul.
There are the literal houses we live in, that we call home. I am desperately trying to close on one right this minute in order to have a roof over my head after I leave church housing!
There is the house of our faith, our denomination, our diocese, our parish.
There is the house of our country, with borders that are sometime porous and invisible, and some that are troubled, barricaded, and even deadly.
And of course, there is the biggest most existential house, this planet earth, our island home.
We learned a lot more about houses, and home, during this pandemic. We were suddenly forced to stay inside our houses a bit more than most of us were used to, and many of us found out we loved the house, it really was a home, we loved the people in it, we loved not having to leave it. I mean zoom with pajama bottoms and house shoes can get really comfortable! And some of us had the opposite experience, we found out we didn’t love it at all, that it really did not feel like home, that we might not really love the people that were in it that much, that it might be time to go.
All of that is part of life and living. I would say I experienced a bit of both extremes. I found I definitely loved the person who lived with me and I loved being with her, and not leaving to travel and not going, going, going. Gearing back up made me think twice about heading back to that. I have gotten a crash course in re-entry over this last few months with more travel in what I am calling the COVID catch up, and it has affirmed all that “Staying in the house” that I loved so much during the pandemic.
So, this address may be one of the most difficult I have ever tried to create. I don’t see it as my goodbye speech, so I am not going to do that, or I’m trying not to, and yet, at the same time my decision really is a big part of your current experience! No, what I really want to do today, is what all preachers should want to do, preach the Gospel.
And yet I know some of you are waiting for the big reveal. About my future life. Believe me, I also know some of you could really care less. Well, there’s not one really – a big reveal, that is. I am moving to Florida, or as some people call it, God’s bowling alley, I can tell you that. And I do just want to clear up a few things here and now. After my video announcement I had more people than I ever would imagine that either came right out and asked, or somehow danced around the bush a bit, with this statement, “Bishop, if you are leaving because of me, I just want to say how sorry I am.” It reminded me of a seminary classmate that often said he was such a guilt-ridden person he was certain he was single handedly the cause of the Vietnam War!
Some have wondered aloud with me if this group, or that group, or this event, or that event, made me go. And the answer to all of that is no. Please hear me. No one person, no one thing, no group, made me make this decision. If I were so easily offended, I would not have survived in this role for 10 minutes. It was instead a whole host of things – of living, of surviving, of looking ahead, of death quite frankly, seen up close and in greater numbers. It was perhaps starting to see the same issues and knowing I had nothing else to offer to solve them. It was the quiet, and sometimes not so quiet, urging of the spirit to really discern if I was the one to be here now. It was not any one specific thing. It was instead a heart change, a perspective change. A change is what I felt I needed to get out of life, balanced with what I thought I owed you and could give you now. It is nothing more, or less.
It seems trite and simplistic and perhaps to you a cop out, but it is as true as anything I can say – it is time for me to leave the house, and go sit by the sea.
And I intend to do that, to take some time at first and do just that, sit by the sea. I hope to assist in the Diocese of Southeast Florida as I can, perhaps do a bit of chaplaincy, maybe drive a water taxi, maybe bartend, maybe write a book, and definitely I am all in on being a sea turtle docent, a shepherd to the sea turtles, helping protect their nests, and then helping them find their way to the sea. I may be looking forward to that the most. That is one small way I am going to try to help this house, this planet, to survive.
I will get busy again, because I can’t really stand not being busy, but I am okay with not knowing the precise answer to what I will be doing.
So that is it. That’s all I got. It is time to leave the house and go sit by the sea. I’ll say my goodbye later, for now let’s move on to our life together now, and the work we have to do.
I want to start that today by talking about the numero uno casa, the most important house, this planet. Every sentient being, every breathing, non-breathing, animate and inanimate object is contained and dependent on this house. If it goes, it all goes. It is, in a sense, the holder of every house, of everything I just mentioned. It is the holder of every miracle, of every evil, of every dispute, and every love. There is no way we will ever be able to cure the injustices in the world if we don’t have a world. In my mind there is no greater crisis, no more needful thing for us to turn our attention to then saving this house, this planet.
Jesus is in the garden we call this world, and we are called to meet him there. And we hold as our theme at this convention, that ultimate house, our earth. If we can’t keep this one safe, little else we dream about, wish for, love, is going to matter. This is one we have to be together on, and we have to work together on. As one of my favorite singers Keb Mo says, in his song “Victims of Comfort,” which is about this house, this planet, and our abuse of it, he sings:
“What have we got to lose? Everything
“Yes, and what do we stand to gain? Everything, so let’s
“Try together before we have to cry together
“It’s too soon to die together”
In this diocese we have some amazing heroes of this house, this planet we inhabit. I have begun a process I hope continues in appointing our first, of what I hope will be a few, Missioners for Creation Care and Justice. John Kydd is our first and he, just this past year, at my appointment, led a group of people as the Task Force on the Climate. Their goal was to discern where we take all of this as a diocese. They did excellent work, and I thank them all. One huge step is that in having this as our theme and giving it our attention at this convention and hopefully for all the days to come. You saw that amazing work from him, from Rachel, from many in the presentation yesterday. I want to thank the Task Force, and to especially point out, commend, and beg you to read, the Covenant they created, that I endorse, and have signed onto, and I hope all of you will too. And more than read it, follow it, do it, change some of how you traverse this house, this planet, change how you live in it, so many more can.
As I leave this house, the house that is our collective life as a diocese, we welcome deeper into it someone that has really always been part of it. Archbishop Melissa Skelton, will – and thank you for overwhelmingly approving her as your Provisional Bishop, now – she will step into this house, as I step out. I want to tell you of all of my worries about leaving, no one thing gave me more comfort than knowing Melissa said yes to taking this on, as she is the perfect person for this particular role. Some of you know this but Melissa was the one who nominated me for bishop here, actually in a two week extension that your committee decided to add. If that had not happened I would not be standing here at all, so for some of you, you can blame her! But, for me, I am just so grateful and find this to be such a full circle moment. My leaving is much easier, so much more serene because she said yes to this. Melissa, thank you for that, but most especially thank you for your care and friendship throughout the years and for never, ever, completely leaving Olympia! I wish you only the very best.
And along with that I need to thank your diocesan staff, tremendous colleagues to work with and Standing Committee, who has led after my announcement so well, and the Diocesan Council and Board of Directors, all the Governing Bodies of this diocese which have been truly co-leaders with me, and I have been so grateful for them all. Thank you.
And finally, today, what we do today, we gather to make three new vocational deacons. Meaning they are becoming a new being in this house we call the Church. We ordain deacons at our convention because they are uniquely, in our orders in the Church, the order who belongs to this, us gathered, the entirety of the diocese, with a direct connection, the most direct in fact connection, with the bishop. It is here, I argue, that this is most appropriate. Their call is to go from this house, and as I like to say it, find trouble and bring it back to us, back in this house, so we know, so we can follow them out and start to rectify the trouble. They leave the house all the time, not to sit by the sea, but to march, and challenge, and seek, and encourage, and fight quite frankly, for justice and anything that can be done to bring us closer to the life that Jesus envisions for us all. These three are each models of that particular role in this house. And today they take a special place in it, not more important, not higher or lower, but special, different, specific. I have loved walking this path with each of them, and although pride is a sin, I am going to admit how proud I am to be able to ordain this last set of vocational deacons for me, in this house. It is very special to have it be these three.
Yes, this convention, this address is a bit awkward and strange. It is, every year, the most difficult presentation I put together. In the midst of that, we have not been in person in nearly three years, and we have never done a hybrid convention, and yet here we are, and we are continuing the life we live, in this house, with all we have learned and all we yearn yet to learn.
I don’t want you to get mired in my departure. I don’t want to get mired in it either. I love this, exactly this, what we are doing right now. I have loved every minute of these last 15 years, and although I have many regrets about things I did or didn’t do, people I offended or didn’t pay proper attention too, I have zero regrets, not one, at answering the call, at being here, of doing this thing for you, for the church, and for God. I often did not do it well, but I will always count it as one of the most special roles of my life.
We all reside in different houses. I am about to leave several. The house you so graciously provided and let my family and me live in for these last years and this house we call the church, at least in this part of it, and that is the way it always is, in all the various houses – we come and we go. Even this largest house, this earth, our island home. Even that house we will all leave, at some point, exit to the Reign of God, as did beloved Peter Strimer and Richard Buhrer and Gerry Porter just did.
My beloved, I intend to go from this house soon, and I leave with the best memories, a feeling of love that came from you, and that I hope you felt from me, even when it was tough. Any good I may experience in this new life I enter is only made better by the years I had with all of you. I won’t be around, but I promise you this, between the chapters, between the sunsets, between the turtle roundups, between whatever work I end up doing, I will be remembering you, and I’ll be watching too, so excited to see what you turn this house into.
I leave you with one of my favorite poems, by Jessica Powers, and it seems especially appropriate today. It is entitled the “House at Rest.”
How does one hush one’s house,
each proud possessive wall, each sighing rafter,
the rooms made restless with remembered laughter
or wounding echoes, the permissive doors,
the stairs that vacillate from up to down,
windows that bring in colour and event
from countryside or town,
oppressive ceilings and complaining floors?
The house must first of all accept the night.
Let it erase the walls and their display,
impoverish the rooms till they are filled
with humble silences; let clocks be stilled
and all the selfish urgencies of day.
Midnight is not the time to greet a guest.
Caution the doors against both foes and friends,
and try to make the windows understand
their unimportance when the daylight ends.
Persuade the stairs to patience, and deny
the passages their aimless to and fro.
Virtue it is that puts a house at rest.
How well repaid that tenant is, how blest
who, when the call is heard,
is free to take his kindled heart and go.
– Jessica Powers
Thank you for all of it. Thank you for being who you are, and for being a reflection of the Holy One we follow. In this house we have shared, you have kindled my heart, and you have given me the freedom to leave this house and go sit by the sea.
My beloved, I have said these words to you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.