By Marshall Scott
Since I don't have a Sunday service in my hospital, I do a lot of supply work. Indeed, I can go for several months and not be in the same church two Sundays in a row. For one thing, it gives me an opportunity to say thanks. I'm an Episcopal chaplain in an Episcopal hospital, so at each supply service I thank the congregation both for the opportunity to worship with them, and then for the opportunity I have to be a chaplain. I speak of my work as an extension of their ministry, and thank them for their support.
It also gives me the opportunity for my "Second Sermon." That’s how it gets announced during the Announcements: "And now it's time for my Second Sermon.”" Folks laugh; but those who’ve seen me before know I'm serious.
My first "Second Sermon" in any particular congregation (and one that gets repeated if enough time passes between supply visits) is about Advance Directives. After all, there is a rubric in the Prayer Book calling on clergy to remind worshippers that they're going to die (unless the Kingdom comes first; in which case other things will admittedly be more important); and to me it is a small step to suggest that before we die we might be ill enough that others will have to make decisions for us. (I could say more, but I haven't yet done a Second Sermon here at Episcopal Café.)
But I say other things in "Second Sermons," often local and topical. In one local congregation I was both the first supply priest after the departure of one rector, and the last supply priest before the inauguration of the next. So, as they began their discernment process I encouraged them not to look for another person just like the person who'd left ("God only made one of that person. That person is gone, and isn't coming back. Now it’s time to look for the next person;") and when their discernment was done and the call was made, I encouraged them to support and care for their new priest. In both cases I also said, "Your Senior Warden will also say this to you, but you may not listen to him/her; so hear it, too, from the supply priest that you don't have to live with.”
For the next few weeks the "Second Sermon" will have a new topic: "The General Convention meets this summer. Start praying now.”"
Now, my 'Start praying now' comment isn't some ecclesiastical paraphrase of Gideon Tucker's, "No man's life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session." The fact is that, for all the apparent politics, I am convicted that the Holy Spirit can and does work through General Convention, even if it's not always clear in any specific instance. No, I say that because I'm a Deputy and I want for myself, and for all of us involved in Convention, all the help and all the prayer we can get.
More important, I think Episcopalians don't know enough about General Convention. That's largely because between Convention years, it hardly ever comes up in the local congregation. It doesn't help that in Convention years General Convention largely comes up in responses to whatever is notorious enough to raise the interest of the commercial media. I realize that here at the Café I’m largely preaching to the choir; but beyond the Episcopal and Christian blogosphere (and perhaps to some extent within it), the General Convention is, I fear, imagined like the Czar in "Fiddler on the Roof," inspiring prayers not unlike, "May God bless and keep the Czar – far away from us."
In fact in General Convention our deputies make decisions and pass policies that speak to common concerns right down to the life of the person in the pew. This General Convention is no exception. There will certainly be a lot of attention to the flashier issues – how shall we incorporate all the baptized fully into the life of the Church, and how shall we relate to our Anglican siblings around the world, some of whom disagree with us loudly – along with Anglican siblings and others in our own territories. However, there will be many issues raised that will or should affect the life and worship of every Episcopalian.
- There is the effort under the Church Medical Trust (a subsidiary of the Episcopal Church Pension Group) to develop a single health insurance program for the Episcopal Church that all dioceses, congregations, and other Episcopal institutions must participate in, and that must be available not only to all clergy but also to lay employees working half time or more. If the plan is approved, within three years (and for many within the next year) this will affect the budget of every congregation. Over time it holds great promise to slow the increase in our health insurance costs. At the same time, Church Medical Trust programs have never before been mandatory for all dioceses and congregations.
- There is an extensive revision – really a replacement - of "Lesser Feasts and Fasts," the Church’s publication of information about, and proper lessons and prayers for the feasts and fasts of the Church Year. "Holy Women Holy Men" proposes adding many more observances to the Calendar. For congregations that have daily services this would add many options – indeed, so many as to require some difficult decisions about what to observe and not to observe. There might be disagreement about some of the observances added, and some about the principles used in choosing who to include and who to exclude in the Calendar of the Episcopal Church; but either passage or failure of this revision would affect how we worship.
- There have been a number of resolutions regarding issues of our health, including substance abuse, persons with disabilities, HIV/AIDS, and health care at the end of life. Health issues affect all of us, whether directly or indirectly. There are also resolutions on the environment and the economy. There’s even a resolution encouraging dioceses to require candidates for ordination to become conversant in a language other than English.
So, while the hot-button issues will get the most attention from the news media, and will get the most questions from individuals in the pews, there will be many issues addressed that will strike much closer to home. Those of us involved in making the decisions want both to express the best of the Episcopal Church as we know it now, and also the direction the Spirit seems to be leading. We want to succeed in that expression whether we’re considering the ordination of bishops or the health needs of our neighbor in the pew.
So, as I preach this "Second Sermon" from now until the second week of July, I will continue to bring this issue to the congregations, and to make this request. “The General Convention meets this summer. It's important for you and for me and for our lives together as Episcopalians. Start praying now.”
The Rev. Marshall Scott is a chaplain in the Saint Luke’s Health System, a ministry of the Diocese of West Missouri. A past president of the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains, and an associate of the Order of the Holy Cross, he keeps the blog Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside.