This is the first of what I hope to be at least daily blogs from our Episcopal General Convention, being held in Indianapolis, Indiana from July 3-12.
As I write this I am winging my way to our Episcopal General Convention 2012 in Indianapolis. I actually left Seattle on Thursday June 28th, the day after my 49th birthday, to head to my family reunion in Hot Springs, Arkansas. It has been 12 years since my mother’s side of the family has been together in this number and I have really been looking forward to it. Most of you know about family reunions. They come in all shapes and sizes and like many such things, often the expectation of it is a bit different than the reality of it. We idealize some of our expected time together. Being human, we make it, in our minds, what we want and need it to be which, may or may not, live up to our expectations once we are “living” it. We find out things we didn’t know or expect. We find some we love have changed in ways we celebrate, and others not so much. We find some have not changed at all, for good or ill. If we are fortunate enough, and wise enough, we see our reflection from those who have known and loved us from the beginning, and perhaps from them we learn more about our contradictions and blind spots.
Often, in families, keeping the peace means putting on a good face, even if there is disappointment and frustration because something else, our peace and togetherness and the future of our relationship, is more important. That is certainly not all bad. When it is over, even if it did not totally match what we had made it in our imaginations before we arrived, in most cases we count it good, just by the mere fact that we were together.
So, there is a bit of a serendipity that I now sit on a plane, having left my literal family reunion, to fly to our Episcopal Family Reunion, our General Convention, held every three years. My dear colleague and friend Bishop Sandy Hampton refers to it as our “Big Fat Episcopal Family Reunion.” It is much the same, we have a vision in our minds and hearts of what it will all mean, and do, how we will feel during it and after. We have expectations of those we know who will participate in it, and even those we don’t. The parts that are good are so very good, and the parts that are not are somewhat protected, sometimes even ignored, to protect that which is good. Some of that has been called into closer scrutiny this time around and that, to me, is also a good thing. We spend lots of money and time, passing resolutions that, I have honestly said before, I wonder if anyone looks at after we leave. A few truly do change lives, and perhaps the rest are worth that. But, I have to think the White House, or Congress, or even those in our pews, quite frankly, do not wait with bated breath for many of our decisions, at least not in great masses.
So, in fact, I think it is time to question our motives, and our true purpose in gathering. I am not at all sure we don’t need it, but I do wonder about what we do at it, how we do it, what it all means after we are here. Like the very Body we come to represent, our most important motive is, or should be, those who are not within our fold as of yet. That is the great irony, this is not for us “insiders” but for those outside whom we would like to have discover the love, grace, and salvation in Jesus Christ. Perhaps the greatest failure of nerve is not to question just how much our work, money, and time in these next days really affects them. We keep doing “business” as if nothing has changed, when in fact, everything has changed.
And for all the many words we finally say, and then put into resolution form, what is it we finally do? For those who actually do look to us, from the outside, for some light, what do they see, what contradictions or blind spots of ours affect the integrity of what we say?
Here are a just a few I am concerned about. The Denominational Health Plan, which is not perfect, but at least would bring parity to lay employees, is incredibly, once again in question. I remain amazed that we are so quick to send out resolutions calling other organizations to offer parity, to be just, but when called upon to make this a reality for our employees, the same self preservation we rail against in others seems to rule the day in us. Though our diocese was one to approve and send a resolution that would effectively kill this plan, (a resolution I do not support although I know it was presented with all good conscience and faith ), I have seen nothing that changes my mind from the decision we made at the last convention, it is time for this, it has been time, and I hope we do not roll it back.
Another is the proposed Development Office for the Episcopal Church. It could be an example of our shortsightedness should we choose not to fund it. Yes, three and half million dollars is a lot in this budget, but the Episcopal Church has lagged behind in securing the exchange of wealth, wealth like we may never see again, which is passing from generation to generation now. Those that say this is not about mission, I believe, are not thinking for future generations. If you could spend three and half million dollars and double that money or receive even exponentially more, for mission, why would we not do it?
In our “family reunion,” it is quite interesting to note what gets ignored, or quietly put down when brought up, which brings me to one of my greatest concerns; the fact that over 40% of our dioceses do not pay their full apportionment, or the “dues” we have all agreed upon. Most other organizations, non-profit or not, would seriously consider what such a trend means for the future of itself. We seem to plod merrily along as if this does not exist or as if it is “none of our business” when it is profoundly changing our “business” and may even be the beginning of the end of it. I am all for the apportionment being lower. I even believe it should be. On a diocesan level we are bringing ours down, but that is not the point. For us, here, the point is how these decisions are made, and what it means to the community when they are.
These are just a few of many. These are my concerns, I claim them for no one else! There are others I will address more as we go along. There are some we don’t even know yet. That is how family reunions go, there are always surprises! Many important issues will be brought forward at this gathering. The mere discussion of such is a worthy thing, the simple mixing of the “Church” is a touchstone reminder of our diversity and strength.
But we cannot allow those strong goods to overshadow the fact that we have a serious problem. We need to talk, deeply and honestly. For the good of our “family”, and our soul, this is what I pray for in these days to come.