UPDATED: see more bishops’ letters below and closing remarks:
The Bishops of the Episcopal Church and some visitors are meeting in Nashville for their Fall retreat. It is one of 2 meetings they hold each year outside of General Convention. It is often a time of sharing common concerns of bishops and learning from invited speakers and from each other. Today is the last day of their gathering: The theme for the fall meeting of the Episcopal Church House of Bishops is Transforming Loss into Possibilities. Today is the last day:
Dr. Elaine Heath presented Missional Wisdom: Beginning Theologically. Dr. Heath is the Co-Founder of the Missional Wisdom Foundation and the McCreless Professor of Evangelism at Southern Methodist University Perkins School of Theology. Dr. Heath laid out laid out a vision that challenges Christian communities to be truly incarnate.
The morning discussion focused on Bridge-building Mission. Presenters were:
Bishop Suheil Dawani of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem on Bridge-building Ministry of the Diocese of Jerusalem. Dr. Hisham Nassar, MD, Bishop’s Coordinator for Healthcare in the Diocese of Jerusalem and the Middle East, on the services of the Diocese. Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, on Christian-Jewish Partnerships. Canon David Porter, Archbishop of Canterbury’s Director of Reconciliation, on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Vision for Reconciliation …
In the afternoon, Bishop Andy Doyle of Texas, Bishop Michael Curry of North Carolina and Bishop Sean Rowe of Northwestern Pennsylvania presented a report from the Task Force to Reimagine the Episcopal Church (TREC). …
A report was provided to HOB from the Ecclesiology Committee. Following table discussion, a panel answered questions from HOB – Bishop John Buchanan of Chicago; Bishop Bill Franklin of Western New York; Bishop Bill Gregg of North Carolina; Bishop Pierre Whalon of Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe; and the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, President of the House of Deputies. The House discussed the importance of the founding of the church and its past as primer for the conversation about the future of the church.
The first session focused on Formation for Mission led by Bishop Thomas Breidenthal of Southern Ohio. Bishop Breidenthal’s presentation was met with tremendous enthusiasm and provoked deep discussion about theology and ministry. One image that captured the House’s imagination was Baptism as not only washing us from sin but also “expelling us –like birth- away from a life of safety and security and into the vulnerable places of the world.” He noted, “Mission is not what we do but what God does and we are invited to get swept up into it.”
Episcopal Church Chief Operating Officer Bishop Stacy Sauls presented the innovative Diocesan Partnership Program. He started by explaining that The Missionary Society is the simplification of the corporate name of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. It represents the effort of reorienting the work of the churchwide staff to work with the dioceses and to be facilitators of mission. This happens as the staff offers (1) support for diocesan ministry (2) leveraging resources for this ministry (3) makes connections throughout the church. Bishop Sauls stressed that this is in contrast to a “corporate headquarters” model of church where money flows upward and program flows downward.
The Church Pension Group presented information to HOB. Bishop Wayne Wright of Delaware and a member of the CPG board introduced: Mary Kate Wold, CPG President and Chief Executive Officer; the Rev. Patricia Coller, Executive Vice President and Chief Ecclesiastical Officer; and Frank Armstrong, head of the Medical Trust. The presentation centered on the growing positive impact of the Denominational Health Plan, seeking to offer the best care at the best rates. They are aware and looking at the challenges and opportunities of the Affordable Health Care Act as it affects how we care for our clergy and employees.
Sunday, September 22 is a Sabbath day of the retreat with bishops attending local churches and the evening devoted to a “fireside chat” — a closed session where the Presiding Bishop usually has a Q and A.
The day’s theme was Moving Missionally: Practical Applications. A panel addressed this topic: the Rev. Tom Brackett, Episcopal Church Missioner for Church Planting and Ministry Redevelopment; the Rev. Mary Frances of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA); and the Rev. Becca Stevens, founder of Thistle Farms.
Each presented an overview of their work and their points of mission work. Brackett encouraged us to shed old structures that no longer serve our mission, calling us to “molt bodaciously.” Stevens urged us to think that we can make a difference in the troubled fields of the world. She shared with us that love teaches us as much in failure as it does in success. Frances reminds us that we are too often dying programs looking for revenue streams instead of life streams.
Tuesday, September 24:
Bishop Dan Edwards in a poignant tweet:
— Dan Edwards (@bishopdannv) September 24, 2013
Some bishops are Tweeting the meeting under the hashtag #HOB13 or #HOB. +Andrew Doyle, bishop of Texas is the most prolific tweeter. +Dan Edwards, bishop of Nevada, +Dan Martins, bishop of Springfield, and +Kirk Smith, bishop of Arizona, are blogging as well.
Link your bishop’s reports in the comments. (btw an easier system to comment – use the choices on the right side to log in)
Bishops at worship video by +Arizona
Last day September 24: the final day’s theme was “Moving Missionally: Episcopal Perspectives.” The day included a panel discussion using biblical periscopes as a frame of reference.
The seminal question of the broader sessions however is this: what has to be given up by us as Church to do what God is asking? Every speaker was sure that God is asking a new thing of us and every speaker was convinced that the key characteristic of the Church as an agent of God’s mission is that we are being sent out.
Tom Breidenthall speaking on formation for mission, said that in baptism we are expelled by God into new life and new relationships both with God and our neighbors. He opposed the concept of outreach as appropriate to Christian understanding as it assumes that we are inside something with others outside. And yet we have not reached the Promised Land, we are still prone to our own sinfulness, we are as in the wilderness as were the chosen ones of Israel, and thus still in mission. There is a reason why the exodus was linked in early church thinking with baptism. Look for partners, he advised, partners who can teach you what it means to live in poverty or with shattered lives and with whom you can partner in the reign of God.