By Bill Carroll
I attended General Convention this year as a Deputy from the Diocese of Oklahoma. For the most part, I am happy with the compromises we reached on Prayer Book revision and marriage, namely:
(1) The substitute for A068 authored by Bishop Andy Doyle of Texas;
(2) D078, authored by several deputies and passed with a few amendments, with its immediate provision of moderately-revised, expansive-language versions of Eucharistic Prayers A, B, and D, and
(3) The final form of B012, which moves the ball forward on equal access to marriage rites in all dioceses of the Episcopal Church.
I see signs of the Holy Spirit’s guidance in the deals that were struck and in the respect we paid to dissenting voices while continuing to move forward, though, given the chance, I would have gone further on marriage, and it remains an open question whether the implementation of B012 will be faithful to what the General Convention adopted.
With regard to other resolutions, I was especially inspired by the unanimous decision by both houses to begin the process of readmitting Cuba to the Episcopal Church.
Although I didn’t always get my way on everything, only a handful of the votes were truly disappointing. Even there, I found spiritual value in our fallible process of gathering, praying, and voting. That’s both because it beats known alternatives and is relatively more open to repentance and needed change.
None of which is to deny the many obstacles we still face. As during our Lord’s earthly ministry, the Jesus Movement faces considerable opposition from the “evil powers of this world that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God.” (From the baptismal renunciations, BCP, p. 302) The Church itself, to say nothing of the wider world, does not yet look enough like Jesus and the Kingdom. The Good News is that Jesus is risen, and has triumphed over sin, suffering, and death. The Kingdom cannot be defeated by our selfishness, greed, hatred, violence, and foolishness. The world may not know it yet, but it’s true, and it’s our job to tell people and show people that Jesus loves us ALL—that he lives and reigns forever—and that we should start LIVING and LOVING accordingly.
I continue to be committed to (though sometimes frustrated by) our mixed polity, with both hierarchical and democratic elements, where all orders of ministry are represented in deliberative bodies that help shape the mission of the whole Church. With both civility and passionate commitment, the Episcopal Church is still able to have conversations that our wider society despairs of having. In an increasingly polarized world, we are able to disagree respectfully and maintain our relationships, even while making important decisions. (A lot of the action here happens in the trenches, in local congregations and dioceses, where these conversations get even more real and relevant.)
I believe that a healthy Church has structures in place to hold leaders accountable, but also devolves authority away from the center to the margins and authorizes those lay and clergy leaders who do the work of ministry to share in the authority and responsibility to carry it out. At times at General Convention, I glimpsed worldly ambitions and desires for control getting the better of us. But in the end, we did a great deal of Godly work that will move many key conversations (and the whole Church) forward.
I am also convinced that, at its heart, General Convention is less about resolutions (as important as some of them were), and more about renewing the ties that bind us together as the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement and reclaiming what our Presiding Bishop calls “a way of being Christian that looks like Jesus of Nazareth.” And so, for me, the true highlights of General Convention were the Revival we held at the Palmer Center on July 7 and the public witness at the Hutto Detention Center (thanks to the Rev. Megan Castellan and other organizers who made that possible). With regard to the latter, a widely shared Tweet says it all: “A woman called from Hutto after today’s prayer service and told us they were glued to the windows until the last bus left the detention center. Women inside were crying, saying they knew they weren’t alone after seeing so many people there.”
At the revival, after all the appropriate non-partisan disclaimers, the Presiding Bishop was crystal clear (in both English and Spanish—his interpreter, Ms. Dinorah Padro, is a rock star, by the way) about the implications of the Gospel of love that he is preaching everywhere he can.
According to the Episcopal Church Public Affairs Office, in addition to the many people in the room, the revival reached 26,747 individual viewers in the live stream and a subsequent 58,000 views on Facebook (as of July 10). All to hear our Presiding Bishop preach a sermon that received a standing ovation (from Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Libertarians, Vegetarians, what-have-you) about the power of the Gospel and God’s life-giving, liberating love for all people, no exceptions allowed. For me the money quote is the following:
You know the older I get the more I am convinced that we waste a lot of time in life in stuff that does not give life. And some of that’s human, we’re human. And that’s okay I’m not puttin’ all that down. But at the end of the day, we’ve gotta live. We’ve got to live in a world where little children are not separated from their parents at our borders. We gotta live in that kind of world. And the work of love is to make a world with the possibility of life for all is real. That is the work of love. And I really believe that’s why I am a Christian, better yet why I’m a follower of Jesus. A very faulty one, by the way, but a follower nonetheless. But I am because I believe Jesus was right. The way to life is the way of love.
Presiding Bishop Curry would be the first to tell us that it’s not about him. It’s all about Jesus and the Movement he came to ignite, a movement as relevant to our own time as it was in the first century. Here as elsewhere, we need movement-centered leaders, rather than leader-centered movements. As many of the saints have reminded us in different ways, Jesus himself was a person for others.
The Jesus Movement really is nothing new. It’s just basic New Testament Christianity. It is all about following Jesus in the power of his Spirit of love. I am convinced that all the good things that happened at General Convention are an outgrowth of a compelling Gospel vision, with the Presiding Bishop as one among many witnesses (our “Chief Evangelism Officer”).
The question for us is how we respond to and share this Gospel message in our own neighborhoods, workplaces, and schools. How do we tell others what Jesus means to us? How do we share, by word and example, the many ways he gives us hope and changes our lives? How do we share the Good News of Jesus and his love in ways that change the world? As we move forward together into the next Triennium, I am convinced that, if we respond to Jesus and the Gospel in faith, we can do great things for God.