Deputies, bishops and others are gathering in Salt Lake city for the 78th General Convention. Business really gets underway tomorrow, but today offered deputy orientation plus opening remarks from the Presiding Bishop and President of the House of Deputies.
The Presiding bishop seemed to be channeling Capt Janeway as she began;
When we gathered as a body three years ago, we were intensely excited about boldly going where only one man has gone before. We authorized a study of how the Episcopal enterprise works, and how it might be renovated for its current mission. TREC started the work, and they’ve given us a map for the long journey ahead. It’s not a final product, but an invitation to warp up and get moving.
Later in her address she touches on the hot issues leading into this GC; marriage (especially the same-sex kind), re-organization of governance and Israeli divestment:
We begin this General Convention with plenty of challenge ahead. We will reflect on the canons and liturgy related to marriage, consider how to tune our interdependent governing structures, and seek to promote justice and foster peace in areas of conflict here and across the world.
She then likens the church to a missionary expedition, but one that needs to update its technique
This missionary expedition doesn’t need updated instructions – we know where we’ve been sent, and what the prime directive is: love God, love neighbor, work to heal the world. We do need a next-generation operations manual, with more granular ways of teaching and encouraging the missionaries and expedition crew.
And then, somewhat surprisingly, she throws a bone to those in the Anglican Communion who would wish the Episcopal church were a little more…constrained in its efforts towards justice;
The work we begin and continue here should keep us in mind of the larger body – the Anglican Communion, our ecumenical and interreligious partners, many of whom are represented here today – and the entire body of God’s creation. Our decisions must consider how they might contribute to more abundant life for others.
Finally, she paraphrases the Great Commission (but with way more words than Jesus used because she wants to say something that refers to rising racial and class tensions here in the US)
We know how, if we will GO out there, unburdened by all the prejudices and presuppositions we use as crutches and weapons. Turn guns into swing sets. Turn chains into park benches. Go out there and find God already at work, preparing the ground for the peace that brings abundant life for us all. Go, for Jesus sends us on the only journey truly worth our lives.
Gay Jennings also delivered her opening address today and began by remarking that 46% of the deputies were first timers and that nearly 2/3 (66%) were either first or second time deputies which she thought offered great possibilities (for new ideas and courage we hope). But then she offers a not very good joke riffing on the fact that today was the feast of the Nativity of St john
Now, I’m sure it’s a coincidence that we’re greeting our presiding bishop nominees on the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. And I’m sure we will all enjoy the special lunch of locusts and wild honey that the Salt Palace staff has prepared for us.
But then, rather than offering a speech oddly couched in terms and metaphors drawn form Star Trek (a 49 year old TV show BTW – not exactly timely) but instead draws on the gospel of Luke’s telling of the tale of Zechariah, made unable to speak by God, until the naming of the baby John, to draw out inspiration for this General Convention.
But Zechariah had spent his period of silence well. And when the people assembled had witnessed the miracle and heard his praise, they knew they were on the edge of a strange and wonderful future.
“What then will this child become?” they asked. What indeed?
You won’t be surprised that now I’m going to turn from preaching to meddling. The first thing I want to point out about this reading is that in order for Zechariah to hear God speaking to him, he had to stop talking and listen. For a long time. You know who you are.
The second thing to notice about this text is that what’s at stake is the baby’s identity. God is moving, strange things are happening, and no one is sure what’s going on. So they disagree about what the baby’s name should be. We have had a version of this naming problem in the Episcopal Church these last few years, as you may have noticed.
Just like Zechariah, we are standing on a boundary between the old and the new.
Then, bringing the theologian Paul Tillich into the conversation, she ponders the possibilities of discovering the new within ourselves and seeing the possibilities latent within us, asking “What will we find there, in the corners of the collective soul of the Episcopal Church?”
She seems to be calling for a church that fairly (wisely) distributes power and authority, but also one that seeks to bring to the table more than just the regular voices.
I think we’ll find our Baptismal Covenant, in which we affirm the Creed, repent of our sins, proclaim the Good News, and promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons and respect the dignity of every human being. All of them—not just the ones with orthodox theology, or any theology; not just the ones who make us comfortable; not just the ones whose understanding of marriage or access to communion or the calendar of commemorations accord with our seminary training or our bishop’s direction. Not just the ones who know how the Virtual Binder works.
I think we’ll find our history of seeking the kingdom of God by distributing authority among clergy, bishops and laypeople so that all voices are heard, all people are welcome, and all visions of justice and mercy are honored.
Jennings also reminds us that, no matter our difficulties, God isn’t done with us yet and that our calling in this age is to hold to what has gone before but lightly so that we might refashion it into something new and even better.
We have a lot of work to do. We are people of God who have been shaped, in ways that endure, by our history, by the fundamentals of our faith and by our common prayer. Surely we need to change, to restructure, to adapt, and surely we need to do it drawing upon the strengths of the identity given to us by God and shaped by the saints who have gone before us.
But she also reminds us that our history and tradition are not unmitigated goods;
Even as we wrestle with the church’s future, we must reckon with its past. We must realize that the long, hard struggle to eliminate discrimination within the church required so much energy and vigilance, that we did not do enough to right the wrongs of discrimination, white privilege, and inequality in the world around us. This summer, especially, we must repent of that.
She then closed with a prayer that we might fully discern God’s invitation to us as a church;
This General Convention, may we hear and may we speak, but most of all, my brothers and sisters, may we be opened.
posted by Jon White