It’s been spring break for me at the college and, thankfully, a couple of days looked and felt as though spring might be coming! By the end of the week, though, all that had changed and the gray of winter had returned. Oh, dear. Well, while it was a bit of a break for me, the House of Bishops was meeting at Kanuga Conference and Retreat Center in North Carolina. They accomplished so much while they were together and I would like to highlight two issues that are very timely right now.
Last week, we were all grieved and angered by the mass shooting that happened during prayer at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, taking the lives of at least 50 people and injuring another 50 so far. Obviously, these atrocities are occurring much too often. While we continue to pray for those who died and their families and friends who grieve, we must continue to work against the kind of hatred that fosters these actions – and we must do all we can to take weapons out of the hands of those who perpetrate these murders.
The Friday morning Eucharist included prayers for the victims and families of those shot. Later, Bishop David Rice of the Diocese of San Joaquin called the attacks “an unprecedented act of terrorism” during the opening session that morning. Bishop Rice had been the bishop of the Diocese of Waiapu in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia before he was called to serve in San Joaquin. An article in the Episcopal New Service (ENS) reported Bishop Rice’s comments:
“I find myself as I stand here before you – and I should have thought of this because I was up all night contacting family and friends to see if they’re okay – to have something to say, but I find I have no words….They are us. The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not. They have no place in New Zealand.
Rice said, “Say that with me. They are us.” The house responded loudly, and Rice stopped to compose himself.
“Our immigrant and refugee sisters and brothers, say it with me, they are us.”
The house responded, “They are us.”
“Our Palestinian sisters and brothers, say it with me, they are us.”
The house responded, “They are us.
“Those who even lose their way and do harm, say it with me, they are us.
The house responded, “They are us.”
“Amen,” Rice said, returning to his table.
This reminded me of a Nuts and Bolts Blog post from last October after the shootings at the Tree of Life synagogue (L’Simcha Congregation) in Pittsburgh, PA, and the Kroger in Louisville, KY, which seems worth repeating today. Author and lay preacher at St. David’s Episcopal Church in Austin, TX, wrote:
On my toughest preaching morning ever, I was asked to bring a message of hope and reconciliation in Paris at the American Cathedral on the National Day of Remembrance for the terror attacks in Nice on Bastille Day. I remember feeling shattered then, too. And angry. And full of blame.
But I remember how I ended that sermon–with the words from a song by U2:
There is no Them.
There is no Them.
There is only Us.
If we live behind our walls, if we withhold our compassion, if we refuse to call each other by name, we are doomed. And no matter who you blame at this moment for symptoms, the illness will be all our own.
There is only Us.
Pray this morning for all those whose hearts are broken–and pray for all hearts to be broken. Including your own.
Pray that love and compassion will win the day, as all our wisdom traditions tell us they will.
Pray for that peace that passes all understanding.
At the end of the day, being right is a hollow satisfaction. The Apostle Paul says,
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
These are hard times for our nation [and the world!]. But there are things we can do. Some of them are political. Some of them are personal.
But the greatest of these is love.
Later Friday morning, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry led the Friday Facebook Live prayer service sponsored each week by Bishops United Against Gun Violence which included prayers for those who lost their lives in New Zealand.
If you are looking for an opportunity to have your voice heard on the issue of gun violence, the Episcopal Public Policy Network (EPPN) has an action alert supporting the Background Check Expansion Act S. 42:
The Background Check Expansion Act S. 42 would ensure that firearms don’t end up in the hands of individuals who are not legally allowed to purchase them. This would be done by applying the same rules to all who sell firearms, including pop-up gun shows and person-to-person sales. A 2018 poll showed that 92% of Americans support universal background checks, which this bill would require. The uptick in mass shootings has catalyzed the public safety conversation around gun possession, but access to firearms plays a critical role in preventing suicide and domestic violence as well.
You can add your name to letters going to your senators in support of this act at the EPPN website.
The other topic from the meeting at Kanuga that I want to share is the bishops’ response to Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby’s decision to exclude the same-sex spouses of bishops at the 2020 Lambeth Conference. The bishops and the Bishops’ Spouses Planning Group issued statements:
Episcopal House of Bishops March 2019:
The Bishops’ Mind of the House Resolution on Lambeth and a Statement from the Bishops’ Spouses Planning Group
The House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church met in retreat at Kanuga Conference Center, Hendersonville, NC. At their March 15 business meeting, they adopted the following Mind of the House Resolution and received a statement from the Bishops’ Spouses Planning Group which follows the bishops’ statement:
Bishops gathered at the Spring 2019 meeting of the House of Bishops are aggrieved and distressed by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s decision to exclude same sex spouses of bishops from participating in the Lambeth Conference, 2020. We appreciate that all of our bishops diocesan, suffragan, and assistant have been invited, and are concerned by the use of exclusion as a means of building communion.
At this time, the majority of bishops invited plan to attend the conference. Through our presence we will participate fully in the program of the conference, as well as seek to further the conversation around the various cultural expressions of marriage. We intend to build relationships and missional partnerships that will be inclusive vehicles for building communion across the Anglican world in all its beautiful diversity. We will seek to reflect our varied understandings of marriage, as well as our profound commitment to the dignity of all human beings, including the human rights of LGBTQ+ persons.
This week we have been in prayer and reflection on the Way of Love and how we as The Episcopal Church make that witness to the world as disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ. We affirm that all persons have been named by God as beloved and we commit to living more deeply into that truth.
A STATEMENT FROM THE BISHOPS’ SPOUSES PLANNING GROUP
We join our voices with those in The Episcopal Church who have expressed their disappointment and dismay at the exclusion of same gender spouses from the invitation to Lambeth Conference. We especially stand with our fellow spouse, Becki Sander, spouse of Bishop Mary Glasspool, who is one of the spouses being excluded.
The Archbishop of Canterbury has stated that the theme of this Lambeth Conference is “God’s Church for God’s World: Walking, Listening, and Witnessing Together”. The spouse community understands that the Anglican Communion is not of one mind with regard to marriage, and that, in the life of the Communion, this is a complex issue. Exclusion of same gender spouses, however, seems like a simplistic reaction to this complex issue. It saddens us that all are not welcome to walk, listen, and witness with us, and that all voices will not be heard at this gathering.
As Christians, we strive to live out our Baptismal Covenant and respect the dignity of every human being. A faithful expression of that Baptismal Covenant would be including same gender spouses to walk, listen, and witness with us at Lambeth.
According to the article in the ENS, “The majority of the house plans to go to Lambeth, according to the statement. The bishops said they want to continue to build relationships across the communion, “further the conversation around the various cultural expressions of marriage” and “reflect our understandings of marriage, as well as our commitment to the dignity of all human beings, including the human rights of LGBTQ+ persons.”
I think that’s enough to take in for one blog post. I hope you will all join me in prayer for these concerns that change might happen for the furtherance of God’s call to the Way of Love.
Let us pray –
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council