“We are one together! Yo. Yo. Yo.” So we were led in song by the Chaplain of the House of Deputies, Lester Mackenzie, as we debated and reasoned together at the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Salt Lake City.
Where to begin? My trip to Salt Lake City and the opportunity to be part of the House of Deputies was truly amazing. The days were long and full of committee hearings, legislative sessions, daily Eucharist, networking, studying long lists of resolutions, some relaxed meals and others on the go, coffee – lots of coffee – and the impression that we were part of something much bigger than we could see. In the weeks ahead, I’ll be highlighting specific resolutions and possible action items for us to consider but, for now, I just want to share a few highlights and links to where you can find more details.
As you all know by now, I hope – the House of Bishops elected a new Presiding Bishop and the House of Deputies confirmed the vote! Presiding Bishop-elect, Michael Bruce Curry of North Carolina took the election on the first ballot with the Bishops and was overwhelmingly supported by the House of Deputies. Bishop Curry’s election makes history as the first African American Presiding Bishop – and follows the historic election of Katharine Jefferts Schori as the first female Presiding Bishop. Here’s a link to a video of Bishop Curry’s first sermon to the Church as Presiding Bishop-elect.
I recall an answer Bishop Curry gave to a question in the pre-election interview that gave us a hint of what we should expect. Bishop Curry’s reputation as a preacher is well-known; what the Church wanted to know is what we might expect from him as an administrator. He replied that he will hire the best minds to help in this task and saw himself as more of the Chief Evangelism Officer than the Chief Executive Officer! So hang on, friends; we are the Jesus movement and we are out to change the world!
In fact, the movement toward our need to evangelize was one theme among many at Convention. Our current Presiding Bishop Katharine spoke of our need to “follow Jesus…Into the neighborhood…travel light.” You can find the text of her sermon here – http://www.episcopalchurch.org/posts/publicaffairs/78th-general-convention-episcopal-church-june-25-sermon-presiding-bishop
You can also join the movement to follow Jesus into the neighborhood with resources found at https://www.facebook.com/3PracticesTEC?fref=ts And here’s a video to inspire your journey.
The 3 Practices people have created a helpful flyer to explain the movement which you can download here – http://www.docdroid.net/148t0/3-practices-tec-download.pdf.html
The election of Bishop Curry was not our only history-making moment though – the Household now has two trial liturgies for the blessing of all marriages regardless of the genders of the couple which will be available for use beginning this Advent. The House of Bishops with the House of Deputies concurring also approved a canonical change which will eliminate language that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Brian Baker, deputy chair of the Special Legislative Committee on Marriage that crafted the language of the resolutions after numerous hearings and testimonies commented: “That resolution began a 39-year conversation about what that full and equal claim would look like. The conversation has been difficult for many and painful for many….I know that most of you will find something … to dislike and to disagree with in the resolutions,” he said, asking all the deputies to “look through the lens of how this compromise makes room for other people.”
While we eagerly and enthusiastically sang “We are one together,” it was clear that not everyone in the House of Deputies shared in this moment. A letter was presented by those dissenting the next afternoon which was a reminder that the Holy Spirit does not always work with each of us on the same schedule. Coming to this place has taken years for many of our brothers and sisters and I was reminded that it may take more time for the whole Household to join together on this issue. As we affirm in our Baptismal Covenant, we “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” This includes those whose opinions do not match ours; they, too, are worthy of our respect. And, in that way, we can be “one together” as we seek God’s leading in each of our lives.
Our theme of unity in Christ was also shared in Convention’s response to the tragic murder of nine people in Charleston, South Carolina. This event has touched our lives in the Church deeply and certainly affected the way we responded to resolutions that might aid in racial reconciliation. Fifteen-hundred Convention-goers including some 70 Bishops joined with Bishops United against Gun Violence to march together at 7:30 am Sunday, June 28th. The “Claiming Common Ground” march combined a time for prayer, education and action. I admit, I haven’t marched in any kind of movement since the 60’s (oh, I’m showing my age!) and I was moved by the experience. As we walked the half-mile to Pioneer Park, we chanted and prayed: “Out of the deep I call unto thee, O Lord, consider well the sound of my longing soul.” Upon arriving at the park, we gathered to hear testimonies given by two gun-shot victims, Bishop Hayashi of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah who was shot as a 17 year-old employee of a record shop and Carolyn Tuft who watched her 15 year-old daughter killed in front of her while she lay on the ground after being seriously injured by the gunman. Carolyn ended her story by admitting that she hadn’t paid attention to the issue of gun violence because it hadn’t affected her. And then it did. “I’m here to protect you from being the next one….It’s time to get involved,” she said. You can read more about Bishops United against Gun Violence here – http://bishopsagainstgunviolence.org/
There is so much more to say about General Convention but this is a good start for this week. You can read a great overview of the results of our work at the Episcopal New Service – http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2015/07/07/general-convention-wrap-up-historic-actions-structural-changes/
As always, it’s good to end in prayer.
Let us pray:
Gracious and loving God,
We gathered in your Name for your Church
and trust that we did your work.
Now that we’re home,
we ask that we not forget the unity we felt working together
and that we bring that sense of oneness in your Name
home to our congregations.
We also ask that we hear the voice of your Spirit
as we share our stories
knowing that you work in each of our lives
according to where we are and what’s best for us.
Give us your grace to be gracious with each other.
All this we ask because we know you love it when we pray.
~ Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council