Personal Reflection By: The Rt. Rev. Susan E. Goff, Bishop Suffragan
So, what does it mean that you are now Assisting Bishop of Liverpool?
How did it come about?
What’s in it for the people in the pews in our diocese?
These questions were flying on social media and in person in the days after I was commissioned as Assisting Bishop of the Diocese of Liverpool earlier this month. The answers to all three questions focus on deepening connections for the sake of building up the Kingdom of God in this beautiful yet broken world.
First, let me say again that I am not leaving the Diocese of Virginia. I was elected by the people of this Diocese and take that confidence seriously. This is home and this is where, God willing, I will live out my years of ordained ministry. I will spend a week or two each year participating in the life of the Diocese of Liverpool, and will come home to continue deep engagement in our common life in Virginia.
I will travel to Liverpool for the first time in this new role next month. I’ll lead a retreat for those about to be ordained priest, then preach at their ordination service. Later in the summer, my husband Tom and I will attend and participate in the first clergy retreat held in the Diocese of Liverpool in many years, complementing the participation of Bishop Paul Bayes and his wife Kate in our recent retreat at Shrine Mont. Tom and I will wrap up our summer vacation around that retreat as we go to see Van Gogh paintings before and after. (Visiting the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam has been on our bucket list for years.)
The Dioceses of Liverpool and Virginia have been in close relationship since 2005, united by a desire to transform a shameful past and shape a hopeful future. In the years before the abolition of slavery in the US, ships set sail with manufactured goods from Liverpool, went to West Africa where they traded for slaves, and sailed to Virginia where the slaves were sold. The same ships then returned to Liverpool with cotton and tobacco, and the cycle repeated. A hundred fifty years later, we desire healing and reconciliation and, along with dioceses in West Africa, are striving to transform a triangle of despair into a Triangle of Hope. My commissioning in Liverpool is intended as one more concrete sign of a relationship committed to reconciliation and hope.
My commissioning is intended as one sign of healing and hope in another arena as well. The first international trip I made as a bishop was to Liverpool in February of 2013. Just three months before, at a meeting of the General Synod of the Church of England, proposed legislation for the ordination of women as bishops was narrowly defeated in the House of Laity, after passing in the House of Bishops and the House of Clergy. My visit was at a moment of pain for many in Liverpool and seemed to provide hope for those who desired to experience the ministry of women bishops. Even after the ordination of women as bishops was approved by the Church of England in 2014, friends in the Diocese of Liverpool wanted to honor and formalize the hope and growing trust that we have shared, and to make provision for the leadership of a woman bishop in the diocese. That desire, undergirded by a lot of hard work, led to the commissioning that took place at the Bishop’s Conference at Shrine Mont.
We have much to learn from each other as dioceses in this time of dramatic and dizzying change in the life of church and society. Although our contexts at different, some churches in each diocese are experiencing fearsome decline while others are growing and thriving. Although the details of our governance are different, we share common themes in our daily lives of faith. In each context we can state emphatically that the Church is not dying – it is changing. I am convinced that we will figure out how to be the Church in the world during this time of change only by being in community with one another. Our diocesan link with Liverpool, along with our connections in South Africa and Sudan and Congo, Haiti and Brazil, Guatemala and El Salvador and a growing list of places, will strengthen us to recognize and take part in what the Spirit is doing now as God deepens our connections.
The Rt. Rev. Susan E. Goff is bishop suffragan of the Diocese of Virginia. She first joined the Bishop’s staff as Canon to the Ordinary in January 2010. Bishop Goff was consecrated on July 28, 2012. As bishop suffragan, she oversees mission churches, in addition to multicultural and ethnic ministries.