I am Prince Signh, and I have the honor of serving as your Bishop Provisional in Eastern and Western Michigan. It’s been eight months since I started on this adventure with you, and you have been at this for a while. I will tell you that I am so grateful to God for this privilege of walking with you.
I live in a village called Stanwood, which is around the Canadian Lakes area. It is somewhere there (*points to hand), kind of in the middle of the state. I chose to live there after consulting with some of the leaders because it seemed like it was kind of in the middle.
I am having a blast visiting many of you in both the dioceses and getting a sense of who you are. I thought I would take a minute to just reflect a little bit about what I see.
What I see is people of faith with a deep and abiding love for God, and a facility with which you speak about your faith that continues to strike me as significant. That part of my journey with you has been and continues to awaken in me a deep curiosity about a community of faithful people, regardless of guises, who have a dynamic walk with God, and who are constantly exploring ways to live into it; whether it is taking on a challenge in terms of a vision, or dealing with the crises that are around people. I think that’s a significant part of who you are. I see that as almost a consistent refrain throughout my encounters with people.
The other thing that I noticed is that you are very innovative. I see expressions of innovations in local congregations whether it is responding to human need or to the spiritual needs of formation in the community, whether it is starting community gardens that are collaborative, sometimes ecumenical– certainly reaching out to the community.
There is something in the water in Eastern and Western Michigan that causes you to think outside of the box in a very challenging kind of way, and without really waiting for all of the ducks to be in a row, to jump in. I just find that to be inspiring. I am thinking about the Order of Naucratius, I am thinking about Plainsong Farm, and I am thinking about the Academy, and the Coppage Gordon School, and that drive to see how we can form one another in very innovative ways. And then we have some new ones like the Diaper Bank at St. Stephen’s, Plainwell and initiators that are about figuring out ways to answer the question, “How can we be the body of Christ?” whether there is a congregation there or not.
I see innovation, I see deep rooted faithfulness, and I feel it is time for us in our journey to heal in meaningful ways.
The way I look at healing is that we acknowledge our woundedness and we start moving collectively towards a north star. Jesus calls us for that kind of journey, that while we are moving towards something, we find our own healing and our own transformation, and find meaningful ways to live out our faith so that others may also find ways to heal while they are also journeying towards the future.
Holding hope in front of us is very important. With that in mind, I’ve been in conversation with several of the leaders and leadership groups and we have collectively come to a conclusion that we are going to move into a “Season of Practice.”
It is not new. We are not starting from scratch. You have been doing it already but we can be a little more intentional. Here is what we are planning to do: we are planning to ask all the standing committees of the dioceses (ie. the Standing Committees, Diocesan Councils of both the dioceses, Commissions on Ministry from both the dioceses) and we are going to figure out how we may lean into each other over the course of this next year.
We are going to be in prayer. We are going to think about ways in which we take collectively a sense of where we are, what we have learned, and how we may move towards the future leaning into each other in the season of practice.
The purpose behind this is a very Anglican way, in my opinion. It is the way of saying “How can we practice, before we structure ourselves?” It’s like the analogy of when someone wants to build a sidewalk. The best way to build a sidewalk is to watch where people are walking. It is the practice of the people that gives us a sense of where to put the stuff, or what that structure should look like.
I feel confident that because of the innovative spirit, because of the deep faithfulness in God, that we as two dioceses can live into the season of practice with humility, with curiosity, and with a desire to see how best our efforts can clarify our path going forward. In the process, this beautiful group of people that you’ve invited to be the Building Bridges Committee, is going to take on the responsibility of walking with us as a diocese and as dioceses so that we may also get to clarify a common vision. Getting clarity about vision is so important, as you know, Proverbs clearly says “without a vision people perish,” and by the grace of God we are not perishing!
I want to say carefully and clearly that we are not in a survival mode. I think both of these dioceses, Eastern and Western, are pretty stable, pretty solid, both in terms of the people capacities, as well as financial and other capacities. There is no panic. There is no sense of survival that is driving us to this.
I think what is driving us is a deep desire to see how we can do the work of ministry in the best possible way, to optimize our capacities. If we are able to do this collectively, in this part of Michigan with the resources that we have of the two dioceses, then that would glorify God. It is a very simple way to say “How can we practice this and see if we can learn from this experience?”, then we can put together a sense of how this might look. Are we going to continue in this path and move even deeper? Or should we learn from our experience, and then say there are ways in which we should go back or make some adjustments, etc.
All of that is in the back of the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit is here to strengthen us. I believe we can lean in with confidence and with boldness and humility, so that we may actually become an even better body of Christ, a more relevant body of Christ, a more visionary body of Christ, that is looking not only at what we have right now, but looking ahead into generations that are yet to come, so that what we leave behind as a legacy will be worthwhile for future generations to live and thrive as people in this beautiful state and as a church – The Episcopal Church, or the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement.
As our Presiding Bishop beautifully says, “So come, come with open hearts, come with willingness to learn, because we are going to learn from one another, and then let’s see how the future emerges, but let’s come with curiosity”.
I am confident that we will find clarity as we walk together. Let us walk together!