July 4th, 2012

But a lot has been done already!  They shortened the actual convention but simply added on more meetings before it, I do believe.  Today I Chaired the Stewardship and Development Committee along with my House of Deputy counterpart, Deputy Pat Abrams of the Diocese of Chicago.  We met all morning, getting organized, and then posted the hearings we must hold for the 20 or so resolutions under our charge.  This evening we were able to get 8 of those out to the legislative sessions for tomorrow.   We got this done in time to attend the Indy Indians Minor league baseball game where we saw the home team win!  Then we watched the fireworks over the city of Indianapolis!

I include here the opening remarks of Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefforts-Schori and President of the House of Deputies Bonnie Anderson.

General Convention: opening remarks

by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori 

[July 4 2012] The following opening remarks were presented today by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori at the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, meeting in Indianapolis IN through July 12.

Opening Remarks

General Convention

4 July 2012

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori

Presiding Bishop and Primate

The Episcopal Church

When this body gathered three years ago we reflected on mission as God’s beating heart in our midst.  General Convention is this Church’s regular opportunity to strengthen that incarnate heart for its work in the coming years.  We’re here for a tune-up – to breathe deep, clear our vision, focus the muscles, and synchronize our heartbeat with God’s.

I would invite everyone here to take a deep breath.  Breathe in Holy Spirit, the source of life.  Remember that we depend on that divine gift for all that we are and all that we have.  Breathe deep, for the spirit is blowing a fresh wind, and bringing new creation out of the chaos of the deep.  Contemplating that chaos frightens some, for we never know what is coming, but there is no creation without it – like the death that must precede resurrected life.  We struggle with it because we can’t yet see what is aloft on that breeze.  Yet we are the stuff of God’s creation, we are borne on that wind as partners in God’s re-creation, reconciling, and healing of this world.  Breathe deep, and be not afraid, for God is at work in our midst.

Consider what happens when hearts and minds and spirits are open to receive that breath.  For some, it may feel like the hard push of resuscitation after breathing has stopped – like rescue breathing for a drowning victim.  The only solution is to let go and receive that breath, for there is no life without it.

Sometimes that breath feels like a mere whiff, a barely discernible zephyr in the evening garden.  Go on out there and search for more – go look for the freshening breeze.

Or that breath may be like the last gasp of a hospice patient.  Let it go. Give thanks for the life that has been, and expect resurrection.

And for some, that breath may come like the first one taken by a newborn child – the breath that comes with an old-fashioned whack on the backside.  Cry out for joy!

Let that breath get the heart beating and the blood moving, for we will never be God’s mission partners otherwise.  Let that circulating blood connect us with the other parts of this body, here and far beyond this place.  Go look for connections with your sparring partners – for the left hook and the right jab both come from the same body.  Link up with somebody from another part of the theological spectrum – this big tent is the dwelling place of the holy, and we will never be who we were created to be if we only work with the fingers of the right hand or the left.  Search out those you have wounded or who have wounded you – seek them out and let the grudges go – there isn’t much life in hanging on to them.  It’s like that old tale about swallowing rat poison and expecting somebody else to die.  Go find the supposed source of wounds and build a bridge together – notice the blood that’s been shed, and let it form a good scab to draw flesh together.  Continue to pick at the wound and it will never heal.  Let it go and keep breathing.

If this convention is The Episcopal Church’s family reunion, then go find somebody who represents the outlaw side of the family for you and spend a few minutes learning your relative’s story.  You might promise to pray for each other through the coming days.  Perhaps you can find time for a cup of coffee or a meal together.  That kind of reconciling work will have a greater effect on our readiness for mission than any legislation we may pass here.  We’re here to tune up the muscles and nerves and ligaments of this body for reconciling work, for the work of mission writ large.  We’re going to need the gifts of every single part of the body in order to respond to that breath/wind/spirit blowing over the face of the deep – so go and build some living bridges.

Episcopalians are increasingly engaged in creative reconciling work with other bodies and partners beyond this Church.  We’ve learned a lot in recent years about neighbors across the globe and in more local communities.  We have been in full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for more than ten years, and we’re growing into a newer full communion relationship with the Moravians.  We are sharing and exchanging staff members with the ELCA, and our armed forces chaplains are working and learning together.  The Moravians have a great deal to teach us about reconciliation, particularly in their commitment to avoid having anyone leave the table.  The first Episcopal church is about to receive a Moravian pastor – in Western North Carolina.

We’re seeing new possibilities in our conversations with the Methodist churches, and the ways in which that conversation is working to heal the sin of racism will ultimately strengthen us all.

Recent years have seen some healing in our relationships around the Anglican Communion, and missional partnerships continue to grow and deepen.  We are learning a great deal about how to be more effective partners, particularly when we are able to engage with humility and openness to our own transformation.

We have another significant opportunity for bridge-building, with the SBNRs around us – those who claim to be Spiritual But Not Religious.  Those fields are indeed ripe with possibility, but the crop needs rather different methods than we’re used to.  We need robust networks and the eager humility that will let us learn from others who are engaging new populations.  The people of the Episcopal church in Frankfurt in Germany offer a great example.  That congregation is reaching out to American deportees, people with German citizenship but often no ability to speak the language and no knowledge of the culture, who have been expelled by the United States, often for quite minor legal infractions.  The congregation Christ the King is building community with people who have deeply spiritual questions but no trust or experience with the church.  There is some similar kind of need almost everywhere, but it means going out into the community to listen for it, and finding new ways of sharing what we know of more abundant life in Jesus.

Re-forming and re-imagining ourselves for mission in a changed world is the most essential task we have before us.  We’re not going to fix the church or the world at this Convention, but we can do something to make the church a better tool and instrument for God’s mission if we can embrace that new wind, discover God creating new life among us, and listen and look for Jesus.

We need a responsive set of structures, more connected at all levels of the church, and better able to tap the gifts of all parts of the body.  There is good and creative work going on in many places, and we need to learn how to spread that information and learning as widely as possible.  It needs nodal systems, like the heart muscle in a circulatory system, or the cells in a nervous system that collect and keep passing on the news.  That pumping heart or those nerve cells are initiators or stimulators of communication – in other words, leaders.  When those parts are equipped and committed to sharing good news, then the network becomes far more effective, and communication ripples out and across the broader community.  But when effective and distributed leadership is absent, those networks quickly disintegrate.

The world around us is learning to develop effective and robust networks – and so are we.  There are networks of innovators in church planting and congregational development, including ones that offer peer coaching.  A couple of days ago a deputy suggested another possibility – what about TED talks for TEC as a more fruitful purpose for this kind of churchwide gathering?

We are just beginning to move toward this kind of a network for theological education resources – of seminaries, diocesan programs, and others – and that movement needs a whole lot more encouragement!

The domestic poverty initiative born at the last Convention is an example that is bearing significant fruit, from the churchwide gatherings focused on best practices to the ongoing work in Asset Based Community Development and other forms of community organizing.  Looking at the assets already present in our communities as a necessary part of mission engagement is a way of discovering where God has already been at work, blessing the created nature in a local context.  It’s a theological approach that says we will notice where the kingdom is already present, or in the process of emerging.

Many of you know other places where effective connective tissue is emerging and growing – Episcopal Community Services, Episcopal Service Corps, the ethnic ministry and justice networks.  Passion keeps networks like those growing and expanding – it’s about blessing the work of the Spirit and letting the wind of God fill the sails and propel us into the world.

Discovering the most effective ways to organize and network ourselves for mission, for governance, and for supporting that mission is going to require us to look outside ourselves.  We have to be willing to search out the gifts and assets already present.  Something like a blue ribbon commission would be helpful – a leadership group that includes independent voices, that is non-partisan, that will offer the input of outsiders and people on the margins of the church, not just those already deeply invested  in the church and in the way the church is now.  That may not be easy for this body to engage, but God is already at work beyond this Episcopal Church and we have something to learn from that reality.

A lot of the anxiety in this body right now is rooted in fear of diminishment, loss of power or control, or change in status.  The wider church – the grassroots – in not all that interested in the internal politics of this gathering.  It is interested in the vitality of local congregations and communities, in ministry with young people, and in opportunities for transformative mission engagement in and beyond the local context.  Our job here is to make common cause for the sake of God’s mission.  That is in part a political task.

Politics is not a dirty word – it refers to the art of living together in community, and it applies to Christ’s body as much as it does to the various nations in which this Church is present.  We don’t yet live in the fullness of the reign of God, even though we do see glimpses of it around us and among us.  Our task is to gather the various parts of this body of Christ, together with any partners who share our values, for the work of building societies that look more like the reign of God.  That takes compromise, for we will never all agree on the proper route or method for getting there.  We live in the awkward yet lively tension between what is and what will eventually come to be, in God’s good time.  We aren’t going to find perfection at this Convention, but we can prayerfully work at discerning a way forward that will let us gather our common gifts to work toward that dream of the reign of God.

We’re in this together – as the full range of Episcopalians, together with our Christian siblings – both those most like us and those who seem most distant – and we have other potential partners for the various parts of the mission God sends us to do.  Our task is to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves, in finding and blessing any creative gift that will serve God’s dream.  Can we reframe our view?  Will those with eyes to see and ears to hear look for the places where God’s creative presence is already at work?  God has given those gifts, and we will miss the mark if we ignore them.  We will miss all five marks if we ignore the partners and possibilities around us.

So breathe deep, open your eyes and ears, build bridges with unlikely folks, and let God’s word prosper in that for which God sent it.  And may God bless our labors in this place!

General Convention: opening remarks

by House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson 

[July 4, 2012] The following opening remarks were presented today by President of the House of Deputies Bonnie Anderson at the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, meeting in Indianapolis IN through July 12.

 

 

President of the House of Deputies Bonnie Anderson

Opening Remarks for the 77th General Convention

July 4, 2012

Happy Fourth of July. I am a big fan of parades and picnics and fireworks. I especially love it when the day can include a baseball game. In fact there is one tonight right across the street in Victory Field. A great thing about a baseball game is that you can arrive late. The game between Indianapolis and the Louisville Bats begins at 6:05 so if you want to come over after the legislative committee meetings, you can buy tickets at Victory Field.

Independence Day in the U.S. —which is the day on which the Second Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence that made the United States independent from Great Britain— this day has particular significance for all Episcopalians. Many Episcopalians gathered here enjoy a rich legacy of fighting for independence in other countries and those other countries that are members of the Episcopal Church, and the flags you see behind me on the monitor pay tribute to those noble struggles. By accident of history, however, our church and its polity came about because the American Revolution severed what James Dator, historian, called “the flimsy ties of ecclesiastical government” (Dator 13) that bound the Anglican churches in the colonies to the Church of England. And by accident and the good fortune of the General Convention Office (getting a better rate on the convention center because of the holiday) we’ve gathered on the national day of the United States. So I want to reflect on that just for a few minutes.

Now it’s not true, as some of us may have learned in confirmation class, that the Founding Fathers of the United States finished with the Constitution and walked across the street to establish the Episcopal Church. But historians have shown us that as you’d expect, because our church and the United States were formed at the same time they were influenced by a “cross-fertilization of ideas” (Dator 15).

In fact, the conditions of the American Revolution are in many ways responsible for the leadership of the laity that is one of the Episcopal Church’s particular gifts. Deputy Tobias Haller writes about this in his essay called “To Govern and to Lead” in the collection Shared Governance. Deputies and diocesan bishops received a copy of it in the mail.

Independence from England meant a break with the authority of the Bishop of London. What’s more, many existing priests were loyal to England and new priests had to travel to England to be ordained. Ordained authority was hard to come by in the Episcopal Church in the United States, and the laity exercised significant leadership. Our first Presiding Bishop, William White, who like Thomas Jefferson was a student of John Locke, became a champion of shared governance by all orders—laypeople, clergy and bishops. His feast day happens to be July 17, after we’ve finished our business and gone home again, so be sure to remember him then.

So it seems auspicious to me that we are beginning this 77th General Convention—in which the structure of the Episcopal Church promises to be one of our principal concerns—that we are beginning on July 4. Just as we celebrate the distinctive democracy of the United States on Independence Day, we should celebrate the distinctive polity of the Episcopal Church that became part of our DNA because of the circumstances of the American Revolution in which our church was born.

But, as many of you may be thinking right now, celebrating July 4 isn’t that straightforward. You don’t have to scratch the surface of July 4 very hard to expose the horrors of colonialism that the United States inherited from Great Britain and continues to impose on so much of the world. You’ll also find in the Declaration of Independence itself evidence of the bigotry and ignorance that led to the Native American Genocide for which we have yet to atone or make restitution. And it is impossible to reflect on Independence Day without reflecting on the institution of slavery that so many of our Founding Fathers and their descendants defended to the death.

On July 5, 1852 in Rochester, New York, Fredrick Douglass delivered a fiery Fourth of July address that lasted more than an hour. Don’t worry—I’m not going to emulate him, at least in length.

Frederick Douglass, as you may know, was born a slave and escaped to freedom. He became one of this country’s leading abolitionists—the most prominent African American leader of the 19th century—and his writing and oratory served as the conscience of the nation for many years during the struggle to end slavery.

In his famous speech, Douglass spoke for those who were not made independent by Independence Day:

The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.

The scourge of African American slavery that Douglass struggled against has ended in this country, but the plagues of racism, oppression, discrimination, violence and poverty have not—not in the United States, and not in any of the other fifteen countries of the Episcopal Church. What we celebrate on July 4th in the United States is an ideal that we have not yet achieved. Douglass’s words still ring true:  The blessings in which we, this day, rejoice, are still not enjoyed in common.

As we set about discussing how to restructure the church, we need to remember that the blessings of independence earned through struggle in many countries of the Episcopal Church are not yet enjoyed in common in the church either. We have not yet realized the ideal of shared leadership of laity, clergy and bishops. Too many potential leaders in our church are excluded because people who already have power and access to money, technology, and education enjoy the privileges not available to all of us.

We are a great and diverse body gathered here today, but I know—we all know—that too many voices are still missing. Too few of us gathered here today are poor, or young or people of color. In our idealistic yet imperfect polity, too many voices remain unheard in the councils of the church.

Worse yet, in recent months, it’s even become fashionable in some circles to celebrate the exclusive nature of the church in the name of efficiency—to treat our governance as a lifeboat in which there is precious little room for laypeople and clergy, to question the value of our shared authority to the future of The Episcopal Church, to assert that the diversity of voices in our governance is just much, too loud, too messy, too expensive, and way too big.

It’s been, frankly, a bruising triennium in the councils of the church. But as I read and reflected on Frederick Douglass’s speech, I found that his words steered me toward liberation:

This, for the purpose of this celebration, is the 4th of July. It is the birthday of your National Independence, and of your political freedom. This, to you, is what the Passover was to the emancipated people of God. It carries your minds back to the day, and to the act of your great deliverance; and to the signs, and to the wonders, associated with that act, and that day.

Now, what Douglass is winding up to say to the people assembled before him in 1852 in Rochester is that their emancipation was not his. The Passover doesn’t really happen for some of us until it happens for all of us. And he was right in his fiery eloquence about the evils of slavery and white privilege. I urge you to read his speech.

But also in his righteous fury, Douglass calls us back to the story of Israel’s liberation. Our true identity, I remembered as I read his speech, is not in being the children of the Founding Fathers, as much good as their Declaration of Independence brought to some of us in this world and in the church. Our identity is that we are the liberated children of God. All of us, all together, are being led toward the Promised Land of God’s reign.

If you’ve followed the conversation about church politics recently, you’ll recognize us in the stories of our forebears who were led out of slavery in Egypt. They went toward the Promised Land, those Israelites, but a lot of the time they went kicking and screaming. “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?” “What have you done to us, in bringing us out of Egypt? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” (Exodus 14: 11-12)

Let’s be honest. We in the Episcopal Church have been forced to get on the road toward the Promised Land. Some of us are happy about that, because being the institutional church of power and privilege, which we used to be, seemed a lot like being slaves in Egypt. Others of us were doing just fine in Egypt, and we’d be happier going back there. We’re wandering in a wilderness of declining membership and budget reductions and we’re pretty sure that we’re going to die out here.

But there’s no going back to Egypt. We’re on the Promised Land highway, and we’re spending a lot of time acting like the Israelites. We whine, we don’t trust each other, and we try to hoard what we have been given even though it won’t keep. Even though when we take more than we need, it breeds worms and becomes foul. And I’m pretty sure that we can all name some golden calves that we’ve been worshipping.

We need to cut it out. All of us. If we’re going to reach the Promised Land together, in one piece, we need the God-given gifts of everyone who’s on this journey. We need the folks who were slaves in Egypt and the folks who were rulers in Egypt and the folks who weren’t born yet when we left Egypt and the folks who came from other places to be on this road with us.

I am a bit concerned that this recent round of wandering in the wilderness has put at risk our central identity as a people whose democratic decision-making has led us time and time again to take prophetic actions on issues of justice and peace and build strong mission relationships with one another and with our sisters and brothers across the Anglican Communion. I am worried that a false choice between mission and governance will keep us from hearing the voices of all the baptized as we restructure the church and create a budget for it.

It is my prayer that the process of restructuring The Episcopal Church and developing its budget will allow us to listen more closely to people who do not carry important titles or sit in the councils of the church, but who know a great deal—perhaps even more than we do—about how to find our way in the wilderness and how to be the kind of church that God is calling into being.

The great Verna Dozier reminded us that we, the church, are a sleeping giant, and the way to wake ourselves up is to know the Biblical story as our own story and start wrestling with what it has to say about our lives and our path as Christian disciples. “A funny thing happened on the way to the kingdom,” she wrote in The Authority of the Laity. “The church, the people of God, became the church, the institution.”

Here’s what I’m going to do at this General Convention, and I invite you to join me. I’m going to regard the next nine days as one long Bible study in how we, the institutional church, can be more like the people-of-God-church. As we journey in this wilderness—through restructuring and budgets and hearings and resolutions—I am going to keep my face pointed toward the Promised Land where God is calling us, toward the church of the future in which everyone’s voices are heard and everyone’s leadership is valued.

I want to close with a passage from We Are Theologians, a seminal work by Deputy Fredrica Harris Thompsett. Listen carefully—she has wise words for us:

If our vision of the church is meager or even modest, we have missed the mighty acts of God. If we think of Christians as hopelessly embattled, we have lost our ancestors’ experience of the expansion of God’s reign. If we reject biblical wisdom because we see the Bible used as a tool for legalistic oppression, we have forgotten the gospel’s response to Pharisees, the way in which Jesus’ liberating ministry threatened the religious establishment of his own day. If we think religious complacency and indifference are modern habits, we have overlooked the complaints of the biblical prophets. And if we think the question “What does the Bible have to do with my life?” sheds more light on heaven than on our work on earth, we have lost the creative essence of God’ work.

In the next nine days, let us be humbled by God’s mighty acts and inspired by God’s creative Spirit. Let us be the people-of-God church, united in our shared leadership and the love and liberation of Jesus Christ.

Let us pray.

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light:  Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 291)