*This transcript was originally shared during Bishop Suárez’s Synod Address on June 12th, 2020*
Good afternoon and welcome to this adventurous opportunity we have to connect on a larger scale.
I am humbled and grateful to be serving as your bishop and to work with such a great team of servant leaders, both in the Office of the Bishop and throughout the Florida-Bahamas Synod. Since most of you are connected today, please receive my sincere word of thanks for your tireless efforts and dedication during this unusual crisis.
We are living another “fullness of time” like the one expressed by the Apostle Paul in Galatians chapter 4, verses 4-7 and it reads:
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.”
The popular Bethel Bible Series makes an interesting historical and critical analysis of this passage. It shows how, when Jesus was born and when he lived amongst us humans, it was the right time. There were many things fulfilled then. Alexander the Great had conquered military so much territory to the extent of making it conducive to ruling the world. Caesar Augustus, later becoming the first Roman Emperor, loved Greek culture and used it as a way of not only conquering by the strength of the armies, but conquering their minds. Using the Hellenistic thinking, he reached out to the existing world, and the Greek language was a universal language and all roads were built leading to Rome. It was the Emperor’s way of being prepared to mobilize his armies fast. However, the same roads that were built to speed the soldiers into war, were used later by the messengers of Jesus Christ to spread his mission of good news and peace. We could say that the fullness of time was one of globalization then.
Today, we have been learning and growing our knowledge through a new digital and technical revolution. This has made the world smaller and accessible to all. The internet has made our current globalization very strong. It is another type of fullness of time. But the church had remained in the 20th Century for many. We had to be under attack by an invisible enemy, Covid-19, in order for us to be forced to use these “new” resources, these cyber roads, as a needed way to spread the message of good news, comfort, inspiration and peace in our days.
We will not go back to being the same church that we were before Covid-19. It will be different. We will need to adapt and reinvent ourselves. This is a time of another Reformation. I pray that God may grant us the power of the Holy Spirit to face this new era. You are the courageous leaders for this new time. Thank you for the many ways that you are already adapting, growing, learning and communicating the Gospel, so we may continue making disciples of Jesus Christ.
Many things have been difficult. The conversations about reopening your buildings for worship have been diverse, and I am proud of the respect you have shown as leaders toward those with differing opinions. While we’ve had the freedom to make decisions about reopening under our own contexts, many of you have still adopted preventive measures to care for the health of your members and pastors at risk. Many are still only worshipping online. Others slowly, carefully and prayerfully are beginning to experiment reopening your sanctuaries for worship while also continuing to share your services online, thus moving on to the “new normal” in faith.
We mourn the death of those in our communities that have died, and we pray for comfort to their families. We are glad that, because of the quality of health care we enjoy in Florida, many people have recovered from the Coronavirus. However, we know that this is far from over and we need wisdom from above to keep calm and continue living our lives in the confidence that Our Risen Savior is by our side, day by day. The concern for our economy is real, and we must try to do our best, according to our knowledge, to be careful and positive contributors.
We have been forced to reinvent ourselves. Out of this crisis, we have seen an emergence of new broadcasters, live streamers, podcasters, and more. Sisters and brothers called to serve the people of God, doing our best with the talents and tools available. Not to mention, also with the grace of our parishioners covering our many mistakes and learnings.
Zoom fatigue has been real. This new way of meeting has not come without its share of stress for all of us. I appreciate our staff and deans expressing new ideas and suggestions on taking care of our bodies and souls. The reality is that, even when we get back to being able to meet in person, we will still use video conferencing from now on, in many ways.
Stepping into our call of being church together, we launched an appeal and grant process to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus, called “United as One.” This effort has helped us walk alongside ministries that are either vulnerable and therefore need all the help they can get, or those that are experiencing a financial strain because of the services they provide for their communities. Others have seen themselves needing more knowledge and resources, to improve their technical abilities as they reach out to their people during this time in which digital communication is crucial. Everyone in our synod council and synod leadership have contributed to this appeal. If you haven’t done so yet, I ask that you prayerfully consider donating according to your abilities. God doesn’t need our money, but our generosity goes a long way in paving the road for thriving ministry.
As of today, we have helped 31 congregations around our synod. We have distributed $80,400 in grants. Mostly it has gone to supply food pantries, to improve digital technology, and support various ministries throughout our synod.
The polarity that still exists in our country, and the latest abuse of power manifested in Minneapolis recently by one police officer, is something we cannot ignore. We do not condone the acts of violence resulting from the riots and protests going out of control. They have hurt many people and local businesses including those owned and operated by African Descent and Latino people. Those actions, however, are as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used to say, the “voice of the unheard.” I first came to the United States with my parents in 1967. Minneapolis was the first city we stayed in. I remember that year, and those weeks in particular, the civil rights movement was going through lots of turmoil. It is sad that 53 years later we still see the same conflicts going on. Sisters and brothers, there is systemic prejudice and white privilege all over our country. We have been witnesses as the Church of Jesus Christ, not leaning into any political party, but seeing this as a manner of justice, one that the Bible is very clear about. My prayer is that our country becomes that wonderful place we long for, where human life and good values are valued above everything, where anyone can honestly express their thoughts and be heard and respected, conservatives and liberals and anyone in between in the same way.
I know we have so many things in common. These things bring us together. I would like to hear about those things. As you are having your video conferences in your congregations, please dialogue about the things you are doing well together. Talk about the things we are doing similarly around our conferences and the synod. My staff and I would like to hear those stories. We still always respond to struggles or requests for help, but stories of good news are welcome and encouraged, and we know that there are more positive stories than concerns and tribulations. Share with us the new ways in which your congregation is planning to improve. After all, we are companions along the way.
My term serving you as your bishop has come with great personal trials and great reliefs as well. Last year during Synod Assembly in June, my wife and I were recovering from a terrible car accident as you might recall. I did not share it at that time but a few weeks prior, I had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and I had already started an aggressive treatment. For the next several months, my energy was low, but the work did not stop. I thank God first and foremost, for walking me through my cancer journey into recovery, where I now have no trace of cancer in my body. My energy is back, and I feel renewed. Secondly, I thank my loving and caring wife, Deacon Aura. Without her, this would be a different and sad story for me and our synod. Thirdly, to our synod staff who were so understanding. I wish we could use the clap feature somewhere in your screens, to give them a strong applause. I am so thankful.
Just when I thought that 2019 was gone and the obstacles were behind us, 2020 arrived with a virus that locked us all in our homes. However, I am thankful that personally, we had prepared our home so that I could continue serving you while away from the office.
There is still so much to share and celebrate, like our global mission partners and our trips to Cuba and Palestine. However, as we focus on who we are, and what we have in our future, we continue with our three-ministry emphasis for our synod: to foster Ministry Vitality, to encourage Healthy Leaders, and to be Intentional in our Diversity. Covid 19 has motivated us to find new ways of centering in our prayer and spiritual vitality. It has reminded us that we need to take care of ourselves in order to be effective servant leaders. And it has broadened our scope to diversify our ministry outreach in ways that we wouldn’t even imagine a couple of years ago.
Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Let us pray,
Loving and caring God, we praise you for creating this interesting world for us. You have given us intelligence to deal with natures freedom. Most of nature’s work is for our life improvement and sustainability, and sometimes it just hurts us. Thank you for walking with us in this, sometimes valley of shadow and death and sometimes we simply enjoy the sun, the rain and the beach. But also thank you for providing some resources for us to continue being your hands as we do your work. Comfort those in mourn, guide us to accompany those feeling lonely, and give us wisdom to use all our carefulness to guard us against this virus. We ask you to help us live in our new way of life from now on. We pray all this in the name of Jesus Christ your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God now and forever. Amen.
Receive the blessing of our Lord:
The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord’s face shine on you with grace and mercy.
The Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace! Amen.
+ Bp. Pedro