The House of Bishops is meeting in Quito, Ecuador.
It is through disaster that doors of the human heart and of social structures are opened, said Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori Sept. 15 during the opening, bilingual Eucharist of the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops fall meeting here.
In a sermon referencing recent natural disasters, like Hurricane Irene and devastating floods in the Northeast and the raging wildfires in Texas, the presiding bishop said:
"The labor of a new age began at September 11th. We saw new beginnings during [Hurricane] Katrina five years ago, and in Haiti 20 months ago. The destruction of Irene opened the people of the East Coast to something new -- and Tom Ely [bishop of Vermont] and Bill Love [bishop of Albany, New York] will tell us something about the beginnings in their dioceses, particularly among the poorest and the weakest. Andy Doyle [bishop of Texas] can share something about the beginnings in the aftermath of fires in a state where the governor still thinks climate change is a fairly tale."
One hundred and sixteen bishops, some joined by their spouses and/or partners, are gathered at the Hilton Colon Hotel in downtown Quito for the Sept. 15-20 meeting.
Bishop Thomas E. Breidenthal of Southern Ohio described an account of the first day:
After the Eucharist, bishops and spouses went into separate meetings. (The spouses' program is being headed by our own Bob Moore, husband of Bishop Nedi Rivera.) The bishops spent the rest of the morning being updated on the denominational health plan. After lunch, we had two presentations on social justice as a major focus of our tradition. (By "social justice" I mean the Gospel imperative to strive for a society which excludes no one.) I was particularly interested to learn that in Brazil the Episcopal Church has taken the lead in advocating for dispossessed tribes and the homeless poor. (To be clear: I am not referring here to the Episcopal Church in the United States. The Episcopal Church has a number of dioceses in Brazil, and it is these local bodies that are stepping up to make sure that the poor are not forgotten as Brazil's economy continues to fire up.)
We ended our work day with reports from three bishops who are currently dealing with natural disaster in their dioceses. Tom Ely of Vermont and Bill Love of Albany described the devastation caused by flooding from Hurricane Irene (and for some the double-punch of heavy rain from Hurricane Lee). Andrew Doyle of Texas spoke about the fires that have turned the equivalent of Connecticut into a moonscape. My classmate, Dena Harrison, Suffragan Bishop of Texas, is not with us in Quito, because she is overseeing Episcopal relief work in and around Austin. (By "classmate" I mean that Bishop Harrison was consecrated in the same year that I was. Each class goes through initial training together, so the bond is close. The class of '07 is missing Dena in Quito.)
Bishop Michael Hanley of Oregon blogs about his experience:
In the Eucharist, we experience God’s radically inclusive love and we are reminded that all are not yet included at the table. Every time we gather in worship we are invited to ask, “Who is not feasting at God’s table? Why?” and we are challenged to go into the world with God’s love for the least and the lost.
With this message the House of Bishops was asked to consider its witness in an address by Don Compier, whose work has been in the theological foundations for liberation theology. He began with a question he was recently asked by someone in another denomination: “If you care for the poor, why are you an Episcopalian? Aren’t you just interested in liturgy?” Don reminded us that our tradition of witness to the concerns for the poor is not well known, even by us. We might do well, he suggested, to remember our own story. Do you know about the work of Vida Dutton Scudder? What about William Temple? William Wilberforce?
During his talk, Don challenged us to see in the Eucharist the very heart of God’s concern for the world: that God invites everyone to the table and yearns for all to be fed. The question we might consider is this: How are we witnessing to God’s vision of radical equality?
In the Episcopal Church, we stress the incarnation of Christ and our sacramental theology of Jesus’ real presence in Eucharist leads us to understand that God engages the world, and, finding the world broken, sacrifices to bring its healing. Are we willing to be united in this sacrifice?
As we begin our work as bishops this week, we have been invited to consider our call to be a worshiping liturgical church, and reminded that this calling leads us to a sacrificial life to bring God’s justice to the world.
Bishop Carol Gallagher also blogs:
On our way to explore old town in Quito yesterday, we can upon some sort of student gathering, police in force with machine guns in hand. We asked the driver what was going on and he said it was a common occurrence, students clashing with police. As we passed the intersection I noticed clouds of smoke in the deserted square and people running everywhere. Too late did we realize it was tear gas, and before we could get our windows up, we had a taste of daily life for these students. As our eyes teared up and our throats tightened against the burning, I was humbled to have witnessed an all to normal setting in this gorgeous city nestled in breathtaking mountains. Our driver remarked as we coughed and pulled away, "welcome to Quito."
Jesus went to the mountain to teach the people who came from all over. These were people who were not permitted to sit in the temple and learn, their lives were those of service and humility. They were the faceless, nameless, humble people who carried on lives of great care and faith. And Jesus told them how blessed they were, despite what the culture, the world, or even the religious leadership might say to them. How wonderful to have this blessing, in a chaotic world where these humble people knew they were of no value. They were precious to God and of great value.
Today, I ask God to open our eyes, our ears and our hearts, to those people who serve and surround us as they are the carriers of God's richest blessings. May we who gather here, humbled ourselves and be grateful for the witness we have in their midst.
ENS also writes about the Bishops coming to meet at a time when the host diocese is experiencing internal tensions:
During her sermon, the presiding bishop referenced the current tensions in the Diocese of Central Ecuador, which includes Quito, where the Standing Committee and Bishop Luis Fernando Ruiz, continue to be at odds.
"You'll learn more about this diocese on Saturday afternoon, but there are several here who can help to tell the story. I urge you to find appropriate ways of engaging the people here, and their leaders, most of whom are afraid of losing something, angry at others, and in a fog about what to do next. A fever has been running through this place for years, yet I also believe we are finding a new beginning," she said.