Friday, July 31, 2009

An Altar in the World: What saves your life now?

I've just finished reading a wonderful book and I highly, highly recommend it. This book might even save your life. It is that good.

An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith, is the newest offering by Barbara Brown Taylor. She begins by explaining how she was caught up short when a "wise old priest" in Alabama asked her to come preach at his church. When she asked about the subject, he replied "Come tell us what is saving your life now."

This book is her attempt to answer.

In it Taylor writes about taking the time to notice God all around us, and reverencing God in everything and everyone. It is a more radical notion than at first glance.

She writes of how she has noticed again God in church, and God outside church, and God in the world. She writes about how the world needs us to bless things: sticks and leaves, food and animals, and to bless each other. And like Julian of Norwich, we can, if we try, notice the entire universe in a hazelnut. Taylor puts it this way (p. 15):
I can return my attention to everything I need to get done today... Or I can set a little altar, in the world or in my heart. I can stop what I am doing long enough to see where I am, who I am there with, and how awesome the place is. I can flag one more gate to heaven--one more patch of ordinary earth with ladder marks on it--where the divine traffic is heavy when I notice it and even when I do not. I can see it for once, instead of walking right past it, maybe even setting a stone or saying a blessing before I move on to wherever I am due next.
I tried Taylor's suggestions for noticing and blessing during our trip to Anaheim and General Convention, and I must tell you it changed my experience. I found myself outside my normal comfort zone, and gratefully amazed.

Taylor calls it a book not of ideas but of practices, including taking one day a week (Saturday is traditional) as a sabbath -- turning off the television and the computer, and just being in the moment for an entire day. 

There is much, much more in this book than I can or want tell you here. I hope you will read this book for yourself and tell me how it is for you. If anyone is interested in reading this book with me, I will schedule time in the fall for a book circle at St. Paul's. We could meet on a weekday or perhaps read this as a group that meets for our Wednesday community night. Or both. Let me know if you are interested. If you are reading this blog from afar, think about reading this book and forming a book circle in your community. And do let me know about your experience.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Saints of Summer: William Wilberforce

Here is one of the major saints of summer: William Wilberforce, whose feast day we celebrate today.

Wilberforce (1759-1833) was a British aristocrat who underwent a Christian conversion experience leading him to become the leading legislative force for the abolition of slavery. 

For 26 years Wilberforce worked tirelessly to end the slave trade, succeeding finally in 1807. He continued to work for the complete abolition of slavery in Britain and its colonies, succeeding in 1833. He died three days later. To say that his faith had an impact on many lives is a major understatement. He is buried at Westminster Abbey, and you can read more about his life by clicking HERE.

A few years back, Hollywood produced a good movie about his life: Amazing Grace. It is well worth seeing.

Violence in the Bible: How do we read it?

In my travels, especially in adult religious education, it does not take long before someone raises the issue of the blood, terror and war chapters in the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures. Reading them can be quite painful, and at worst can justify violence in the name of God. 

There are those who suggest we should just skip straight to the New Testament, though it will not take long to find the warlike passages there as well.

So what do we do with all of this blood-and-guts?

Simon Barrow, writing for the British journal Ekklesia, has a good essay on this knotty topic. Here is the first paragraph and if you want to read more, look for the link below.
Enter any public debate about the pros and cons of religion today, and it will not be long before someone raises the thorny issue of ‘texts of terror’ in the Hebrew scriptures, the Qur’an, or even the Christian testament (think of the grimmer portions of the Book of Revelation).
To read the rest of his essay, click HERE.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tonight: Celebrate at our Community Garden

We went to our community garden Tuesday afternoon to pull weeds and harvest food.

The garden is just exploding with cucumbers, flowers, corn, peppers, herbs, onions - and more! 

At least as important, the garden is becoming part of the community. We met a number of neighbors, including Harold (in photo, his house behind him). Folks in the neighborhood are enjoying the food, and we are harvesting more for the food closet.

Tonight we will celebrate.

Please come join us at our garden at 10 1/2 and Preston. We will have food, music, poetry and much more!

And thanks to all who have worked so hard in the garden.

This is truly an amazing project, and a display of faith in God's abundance.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Archbishop of Canterbury: Two tracks of Anglicanism possible

This came across the transom early this morning, and it is already the subject of instant commentaries on the web: A letter from Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams reacting to our recent General Convention. 

In the letter, the Archbishop thanks the Episcopal Church for showing respect for and commitment to the Anglican Communion. However, he goes onto suggest that we may be headed for a "two-track" communion, one that is in a covenant with like-minded churches, and one that is innovative (guess which one we fall into). There is much to digest in this letter, many nuances (++Rowan is always nuanced), and it will take some effort to interpret his full meaning. 

I've posted other bishop's letters elsewhere on this blog, so it only fair to post this one (and do read the others when you get a chance; it is also worth reading the commentaries by other diocesan bishops which you can access under "Bloggin' Bishops" on the left side of this blog).

My suggestion is that you take the time to read this, and we will add it to our conversation at a forum on Sunday at 11:30 am. Here is the start of ++Rowan's letter followed by a link to the full text.
No-one could be in any doubt about the eagerness of the Bishops and Deputies of the Episcopal Church at the General Convention to affirm their concern about the wider Anglican Communion. Their generous welcome to guests from elsewhere, including myself, the manifest engagement with the crushing problems of the developing world and even the wording of one of the more controversial resolutions all make plain the fact that the Episcopal Church does not wish to cut its moorings from other parts of the Anglican family. There has been an insistence at the highest level that the two most strongly debated resolutions (DO25 and CO56) do not have the automatic effect of overturning the requested moratoria, if the wording is studied carefully. There is a clear commitment to seek counsel from elsewhere in the Communion about certain issues and an eloquent resolution in support of the 'Covenant for a Communion in Mission' as commended by ACC13. All of this merits grateful acknowledgement. The relationship between the Episcopal Church and the wider Communion is a reality which needs continued engagement and encouragement.
To read the rest of the letter, click HERE. The photo is of the Archbishop as he preached at General Convention in Anaheim.

Back from Sewanee: Education for Ministry

Lori and I are safely back in Charlottesville after our trek to-and-fro Sewanee, Tennessee. We were there for a three-day training as "mentors" in the Education for Ministry program, which has a long and hallowed history at St. Paul's. We hope to start a new EfM group in the Fall on Monday evenings.

Although, truth be told, I dreaded the trip because the drive is nine hours each way, not counting breaks, I always come away invigorated by EfM training. Lori and I were in different training groups (I hope you will ask her about her group). My group was led by Mary Ann Bryant, from Chicago, who is one of the most experienced and skilled trainers in the EfM system. I also reestablished friendships with the staff that directs the program.

My training group included mentors from Tennessee, Alabama and Chicago. We did nearly every theological reflection in the EfM book, and we learned a great deal from each other and Mary Ann about group life, theological reflection and how we are called to be ministers honoring each other for the gifts God has given us.

I came away invigorated and inspired by EfM and its possibilities, and hoping a few folks at St. Paul's will join us on the EfM journey this fall. It is a big commitment, but as anyone can tell you who has been through EfM, the experience can be life changing.

We will host a meeting at 7 pm on Monday Aug 3 at St. Paul's to talk about EfM with anyone who is interested. We also have a terrific short DVD to show you that will explain more. Come join us!

If you are reading this blog far from Charlottesville, please check out EfM at an Episcopal church near you, or go to the EfM website by clicking HERE.

The top photo, by the way, I took looking west from the Sewanee mountaintop off to the west across the Great Plains at sunset. The other is from the center of campus and the old chapel.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Monday Funnies

It was once said that the British and the Americans are divided by a common language. It may also be said that Christians are divided by a common book, the Bible. So folks, it is time to check up your Bible knowledge. Here is today's Bible quiz... hold your groans to the end...
Q. What kind of man was Boaz before he married Ruth?
A. Ruthless.
Q. What do they call pastors in Germany ?
A. German Shepherds.
Q. Who was the greatest financier in the Bible?
A. Noah He was floating his stock while everyone else was in liquidation.
Q. Who was the greatest female financier in the Bible?
A. Pharaoh's daughter. She went down to the bank of the Nile and drew out a little prophet.
Q. What kind of motor vehicles are in the Bible?
A. Jehovah drove Adam and Eve out of the Garden in a Fury. David's Triump was heard throughout the land. Also, probably a Honda, because the apostles were all in one Accord.
Q. Who was the greatest comedian in the Bible?
A. Samson. He brought the house down.
Q. What excuse did Adam give to his children as to why he no longer lived in Eden ?
A. Your mother ate us out of house and home.
Q. Which servant of God was the most flagrant lawbreaker in the Bible?
A. Moses. He broke all 10 commandments at once.
Q. Which area of Palestine was especially wealthy?
A. The area around Jordan . The banks were always overflowing.
Q. Who is the greatest babysitter mentioned in the Bible?
A. David He rocked Goliath to a very deep sleep.
Q. Which Bible character had no parents?
A. Joshua, son of Nun.
Q. Why didn't they play cards on the Ark ?
A. Because Noah was standing on the deck.
PS.. Did you know it's a sin for a woman to make coffee?
Yup, it's in the Bible. It says . . 'He-brews'
Thanks for Lori for digging this up on the internet somewhere; cartoon by Dave Walker.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Saying thanks to David McIlhiney Sunday

Please join us Sunday after the 10 am service as we offer our thanks to The Rev. David McIlhiney who is retiring at the end of July. We will have a reception after the service, testimonials and a surprise or two. 

On a personal note, I am very grateful for David's service in this time of transition at St. Paul's, and his pastoral care for people of all ages. I am personally thankful for his advice and assistance in my transition as rector at St. Paul's.

David will not be going far; he will be back with us in the Fall leading our 5:30 pm service for a time as we continue our transition with new clergy leadership.

Friday, July 24, 2009

On the mountain: Sewanee

SEWANEE, Tennessee -- We've made it through our first full day of "mentor" training for Education for Ministry (please see yesterday's blog entry for explanation of EfM). 

There are three groups training at once, and Lori and I are in different groups. The training begins early in the morning and ends at 9 pm. One more day to go after today, though we should get done after lunch Saturday and then we will head back to Charlottesville.

For those who have not been here before, the University of the South (Sewanee) sits on a mountain top in a lovely village. The university was built in the 19th century to look like Oxford and Cambridge, and the professors and honors students still wear black academic gowns to class. (Bishop Shannon Johnston graduate).

Sewanee is also an Episcopal seminary, and the staff of EfM is in a small building behind the School of Theology. It is worth seeing if you can make the trek.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Education for Ministry: An incredible adventure

Today Lori and I are at the University of the South, Sewanee, getting our certification up to speed so that we can lead an Education for Ministry (EfM) group in the fall.

Please let me tell you a little about EfM.

 The program is a four-year small group experience that explores the Bible, church history and theology -- and much, much more. As the name implies, EfM is about equipping each of us for the ministry God has called us to do in our work, in our homes and in the world. EfM groups are intense and require a commitment to study, prayer, sharing, listening, trusting and being together. Also required are open hearts and open minds.

We've been involved in EfM since the early 1990s. This will be our fifth EfM group; we've experienced many joys, a few tragedies, and much inspiration in our groups. My first group was led by two living saints: Grant Carey and Winnie Gaines. Lori's first group was led by a seminarian we had at our church: Katharine Jefferts Schori. Lori and her friend Jean took over leadership of the group when Katharine graduated.

If you are at St. Paul's, we hope you might consider joining our new EfM group. We will meet on Monday evenings at 7 pm, and we will usually meet for 2 1/2 hours, and there is a fee for registering in the group. Yes, it is a big commitment, but as EfM graduates will tell you, EfM is one of the most rewarding experiences of their life. Please contact me if you are interested.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Presiding Bishop Katharine letter on General Convention

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori offered her own letter this evening commenting on the recently concluded General Convention. The work of interpreting the convention is in full flower. 

Rather than put all of the letter here (the letter is lengthy), here are the first few lines and a link to the rest of the letter. Do please read all of it if you have a chance. 

Also, I will be holding a Rector's Forum on Sunday Aug. 2 at 11:30 am in the Chapel (following our 10 am service) to talk about my experience at General Convention, answer questions and moderate a discussion. This General Convention may turn out to be one of the most momentous in our church's history and it is worthwhile spending time listening and reading these interpretations.

Here is the beginning of Katharine's letter followed by a link to the full text:
My brothers and sisters in Christ:

The 76th General Convention is now history, though it will likely take some time before we are all reasonably clear about what the results are.

We gathered in Anaheim, as guests of the Diocese of Los Angeles, for eleven full days of worship, learning, and policy-making. The worship was stunning visually, musically, and liturgically, with provocative preaching and lively singing.
To read the full text of the letter, please clicking HERE.

Letters from the bishops of Virginia

Our three bishops have each written a letter discussing General Convention, and this just came across in my email. I am reprinting each. Sorry for the length but each is worth reading...
July 22, 2009

A Letter from Bishop Lee Dear Friends,

The most lasting impact of the 76th General Convention is likely to be an increase of initiative and energy in local congregations and dioceses. The sharp budget cuts in the three-year budget of the
 General Church will have a painful impact on some faithful staff members, but will shift the focus for mission to the local church, rather than the local church waiting for initiatives from the General Church.
The emphasis on local ministry is a proper expression of the principle of subsidiarity, whereby mission should occur at the level closest to the people who are called to engage in that mission.

Local mission is also enhanced by resolutions which the secular press has incorrectly interpreted as necessarily damaging our worldwide relationship and as following the agenda of a gay and lesbian lobby. Instead, what the Convention did is to reaffirm that the ordination process is under the control of local bishops and dioceses, while stressing that access to that process is open to all baptized persons.
The Convention also invited local churches and dioceses (as well as churches elsewhere in the Communion) to collect liturgical and theological resources regarding same-gender blessings. Recognizing the unique pastoral needs of those dioceses in jurisdictions where same-gender marriage or civil partnerships are
 legal, the Convention affirmed that a generous pastoral response is needed.

The emphasis on the local did not deter the Convention from adopting both a denominational health plan for the whole Church and a mandatory lay employee pension plan, both of which, in the long run, will strengthen the local church.

Faithfully yours,
The Rt. Rev. Peter James Lee

A Letter from Bishop Johnston
Dear Diocesan Family,
With the conclusion of General Convention, the beginning of my time as your diocesan bishop fast approaches. Having just returned to the Diocese from the Convention, I want to express to you my thoughts on the two resolutions from the Convention which are garnering the most attention in the media. The first speaks to the current state of our Church's relationship to the Anglican Communion (D025) and the second addresses same-gender unions (C056 substitute).

Resolution D025 strongly affirms not only the Episcopal Church's commitment to its relationship with the Anglican Communion but also our Church's appreciation and support of the roles that gay and lesbian people have in the ministry of our Church-including all levels of ordination. This resolution passed with a 2-1 majority. I voted against it. As I said during the floor debate, I absolutely agree with every word of the resolution itself. Even so, I was convinced that the actual effect of D025 across the Anglican world would be to weaken the bonds of our worldwide Church and, more importantly, to compromise our international mission and ministry in the very places that need us so very badly--and we so need them. The problem for me with D025 was how it would be seen in its implications rather than being understood for what it actually says. Such is the nature of legislative reality, and this is the very reason why I do not believe the legislative process is the best process to address these issues. Still, I have great
 hopes that the Communion will recognize the resolution as it stands--a statement of where we really are as a Church at this time, all the while hoping to build upon and strengthen our ties with the larger Communion.

Resolution C056 calls for gathering theological and liturgical resources with respect to offering the Church's blessing for same-gender unions, which will be brought to the next General Convention in 2012 for study and consideration. The fact is that several states have legalized gay and lesbian unions, and others will likely follow suit. This resolution responds to that reality. It also allows bishops the exercise of personal discretion in providing for a "generous pastoral response" for gay and lesbian persons in the Church. I voted in favor of this resolution because I am convinced that it is both realistic and right. Monogamous same-gender unions are now a reality, and we should provide for the Church's response, with blessing or without. The resolution allows for either. Bishops must also have the ability to respond to what is actually true in all the various locales and contexts in which this Church ministers. It is important to remember, however, that no official rites of blessing that wholly sanction same-
gender unions have been approved for the Church. In fact, it would take years to develop such rites.

It is not so much the actual content of these two resolutions that may be problematic. The potential for difficulty follows from interpretation of the resolutions. The plain reality is that very little is actually changed by either one of the resolutions in themselves. Both statements address what is already true in the life and witness of the Episcopal Church. The Convention is overwhelmingly of the mind that the Episcopal Church will be the stronger for the realistic and clear perspective of these resolutions.

Just how that will be so is now put to each diocese. Together, you and I will explore what these resolutions mean more precisely for the Diocese of Virginia. I look forward to the way ahead, and I welcome your input. Most importantly, I treasure your company in the worship of our Lord Jesus Christ. I remain,

Faithfully yours,

The Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston
Bishop Coadjutor
A Letter from Bishop Jones
Dear Friends,

It might appear that the Episcopal Church has radically changed course with various interpretations of General Convention actions. I do not think so.From my perspective, the Episcopal Church has remained on the same course it has followed for at least 40 years - one that has "stretched every nerve" as we have sought to live into the Baptismal Covenant.

What has not changed is a significant commitment to making the Church a safe place for all people all of the time. A major shift in our disciplinary canons (Title IV) was adopted by a voice vote in the House of Bishops with little or no debate. This new canon significantly raises the bar of conduct expected of clergy.

What has not changed is a genuine desire to live into the meaning of our baptism. Throughout my ministry in the Episcopal Church, I have seen the Church push the edges at Convention regarding who is to be included. The General Convention of 1970 opened reception of Holy Communion to all baptized persons. In 1973, a significant change in the marriage canon made possible, with the bishop's permission, the remarriage of divorced persons. In 1976, we approved the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate and then in 1979, we adopted a new Book of Common Prayer with the Baptismal Covenant. Through all this time, we have addressed issues of racism and encouraged racism training. And from the 1970s until the present day, we have been hearing the call of our own members who are gay and lesbian to recognize committed relationships and to fully include them in the life of the Church.

What has not changed is a passion for mission. In fact, our world view has significantly expanded over these 40 years. Our eyes have been opened to human need at home and abroad and our congregations have responded in significant ways. Convention approved a strategic plan for Latino/Hispanic ministry that focuses on opportunities for mission in changing neighborhoods with declining populations. The Millennium Development Goals were emphasized as goals for mission. And the presence of primates from around the Communion reminded us of our worldwide connections. The mission of Christ was at the heart of Convention.

Another aspect of Convention that was central to who we are as a Church was the gracious and generous concern I witnessed during a conversation with fellow bishops to discuss C056, which initially called for the development of liturgies for the blessing of same gender unions to be included in the Book of Occasional Services. The House of Bishops postponed consideration of that resolution to allow for a period of voluntary conversation, in which I participated. Twenty-seven bishops, including myself, gathered using the Indaba process of discussion and sharing learned at Lambeth. Together, we drafted a substitute resolution that could enjoy broad acceptance. I participated in the writing group. The substitute did not call for rites to be presented for approval or for use. It did request the collection and development of liturgical resources.

In the House of Bishops discussion on the substitute, we recognized constitutional problems with approval of liturgical rites of blessing. The rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer have the force of the Constitution of the Episcopal Church and they clearly say that marriage is intended for a man and a woman. We did not reject B033 (2006 Convention) which called for restraint in the confirmation as bishops of individuals whose manner of life would be problematic to the wider Church.

In light of all this, have we changed or are we trying to be faithful to a changing landscape in a rapidly changing world? Having fully participated in this process, I sense that we are striving to be faithful.


The Rt. Rev. David C. Jones
Bishop Suffragan

Heading to Sewanee, poetry awaits

We are headed to the Episcopal seminary at Sewanee, Tennessee, for a few days to take a class (more on that tomorrow), and we will be back Saturday. The photo at right is from inside the chapel at Sewanee, I took it a few years back when I was there for a seminar.

We are much looking forward to a wonderful drive through places we've never seen, and NOT being in an airport. Tonight we will stay in Knoxville, and we are going to visit our friend Karen, her husband Jim, and we are especially excited to meet their Baby J, who came into this world only a few short months ago.

Those of you familiar with this blog know that Karen contributes most of the poetry here, for which I am endlessly grateful and eternally inspired. So that reminds me, we've had an awful much of church politics here lately and nowhere enough of poetry. So here, dear ones, is a recent offering from Karen...
By Judy Brown

What makes a fire burn
is space between the logs,
a breathing space.
Too much of a good thing,
too many logs
packed in too tight
can douse the flames
almost as surely
as a pail of water would.
So building fires
requires attention
to the spaces in between,
as much as to the wood.

When we are able to build
open spaces
in the same way
we have learned
to pile on the logs,
then we can come to see how
it is fuel, and absence of the fuel
together, that make fire possible.

We only need to lay a log
lightly from time to time.
A fire
simply because the space is there,
with openings
in which the flame
that knows just how it wants to burn
can find its way.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Links to resolutions and actions at General Convention

If you would like to read the final outcome on specific resolutions from General Convention they can be found by clicking HERE.

The register for all actions at General Convention can be found by clicking HERE.

I will also post these links on the left side of the page.

Letter from Bishop Katharine and Bonnie Anderson to the Archbishop of Canterbury

Forgive me, I should have posted this earlier (our air travel back to Virginia took longer than planned). Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson jointly signed this letter to Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in the wake of our General Convention.

The letter makes abundantly clear that we wish to remain engaged with the Anglican Communion, asks for respect for our governance and a recognition of all of the baptized members of our church including gays and lesbians. Here is the letter, followed by a second letter from Bishop Katharine.
The Most Reverend and Right Honourable Rowan Williams
Lambeth Palace

Dear Archbishop Williams,
We are writing to you as the Presiding Officers of the two Houses of The General Convention of The Episcopal Church. As your friends in Christ, we remain deeply grateful to you for your gracious presence among us recently during our 76th General Convention in Anaheim.

As you know, The General Convention voted this week to adopt Resolution D025, “Commitment and Witness to the Anglican Communion”—a multilayered resolution that addresses a range of important issues in the life of The Episcopal Church that clearly have implications for our relationships within the Anglican Communion. Because this action is already being variously interpreted by different individuals and groups, we want to offer our perspective to you with the hope that some background, context, and information will be helpful in understanding this action of our General Convention. If you have not already had an opportunity to read it, a copy of the resolution is attached. We understand Resolution D025 to be more descriptive than prescriptive in nature—a statement that reaffirms commitments already made by The Episcopal Church and that acknowledges certain realities of our common life. Nothing in the Resolution goes beyond what has already been provided under our Constitution and Canons for many years. In reading the resolution, you will note its key points, that:

* Our Church is deeply and genuinely committed to our relationships in the Anglican Communion;

* We recognize the contributions gay and lesbian Christians, members of our Church both lay and ordained, have made and continue to make to our common life and ministry;

* Our Church can and does bear witness to the fact that many of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters live in faithful, monogamous, lifelong and life-giving committed relationships;

* While ordination is not a “right” guaranteed to any individual, access to our Church’s discernment and ordination process is open to all baptized members according to our Constitution and Canons;

* and Members of The Episcopal Church do, in fact, disagree faithfully and conscientiously about issues of human sexuality.

It is important to understand the process through which this Resolution came into being.

In 2006, the 75th General Convention adopted Resolution B033 which “called upon Standing Committees and Bishops with jurisdiction to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider Church and will lead to further strains on communion.”

While adoption of that resolution was offered with a genuine desire “to embrace The Windsor Report’s invitation to engage in a process of healing and reconciliation” within the Anglican Communion, it has also been a source of strain within the life of our own Church.

This year at least sixteen resolutions were submitted asking the 76th General Convention to take further action regarding B033. These resolutions fell into three categories—those calling for the repeal of B033; those restating or seeking to strengthen our Church’s nondiscrimination Canons; and those stating where The Episcopal Church is today. From these options, our General Convention chose the third—along with reaffirming our commitments to the Anglican Communion—with the hope that such authenticity would contribute to deeper conversation in these matters.

The complex and deliberative nature of our legislative process involving bishops, lay deputies, and clerical deputies prevents the General Convention from acting rashly. However, it does lead eventually to a profound consensus. Sometimes this consensus takes years to achieve. As Resolution D025 itself states, we are still not all of one mind. Passage of this Resolution represents another step in a conversation that began with the 65th General Convention in 1976 which stated that homosexual persons are “children of God and have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church.” The discussion of these issues has continued consistently through every General Convention for the past thirty-three years, and we understand it to be an important contribution to the listening process invited by the successive Lambeth Conferences of 1978, 1988, and 1998.

Some are concerned that the adoption of Resolution D025 has effectively repealed Resolution B033. That is not the case. This General Convention has not repealed Resolution B033. It remains to be seen how Resolution B033 will be understood and interpreted in light of Resolution D025.

Some within our Church may understand Resolution D025 to give Standing Committees (made up of elected clergy and laity) and Bishops with jurisdiction more latitude in consenting to episcopal elections. Others, in light of Resolution B033, will not. In either case, we trust that the Bishops and Standing Committees of The Episcopal Church will continue to exercise prayerful discernment in making such decisions, mindful and appreciative of our relationships in the Anglican Communion.

In adopting this Resolution, it is not our desire to give offense. We remain keenly aware of the concerns and sensibilities of our brothers and sisters in other Churches across the Communion. We believe also that the honesty reflected in this resolution is essential if indeed we are to live into the deep communion that we all profess and earnestly desire.

Please know that we continue to hold you in our prayers even as we invite yours for us.We remain,


Your sisters in Christ,

Bonnie Anderson, D.D.
President of The House of Deputies

The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate


15 July 2009

Dear Brothers in Christ,

My heart was filled with joy at seeing so many of you here last week at the 76th General Convention of The Episcopal Church meeting in Anaheim, California. It is important to me that we continue to find ways to communicate with one another directly about our different cultural and ecclesial contexts, and thereby prevent any misunderstandings.

For this reason, I am sending you a copy of a letter addressed to the Archbishop of Canterbury and co-signed by myself and the President of our House of Deputies. It outlines in some detail Resolution D025, which was adopted at this Convention, explaining both what this resolution means and what it does not mean. With so much misinformation circulating through the press and other sources, it is crucial to me that I provide the Archbishop and all of you with accurate information. To this end, I am also attaching a copy of Resolution D025, so that you may read it in its entirety for yourself.

As the attached letter notes, some people have been concerned that the adoption of D025 has effectively repealed the 2006 General Convention Resolution B033. Let me stress that this is not the case. Rather, we understand D025 to be more descriptive than prescriptive in nature, acknowledging the realities we face in various parts of our own Church while reaffirming our ongoing commitment on all levels to our relationships within the Anglican Communion.

I would welcome any questions or feedback you might have, and reiterate yet again my profound appreciation and joy at having so many of you with us as we gathered as a Church to worship, fellowship, and deliberate together. May God continue to bless your ministries and strengthen our bonds of affection.

Your servant in Christ,

[signed] Katharine Jefferts Schori

Monday, July 20, 2009

Monday Funnies: General Convention

General Convention is done, not to return for another three years, and so we bring you back to our regular feature in this space: The Monday Funnies.

The convention was not without its zanier moments, as when a group of bishops used Mickey Mouse hands when indicating their votes. Sorry, no photo of that one.

At the House of Deputies, each state deputation sat at tables marked with signs signifying its diocese. By the end of convention most, if not all, of the signs were decorated.

The Diocese of Olympia (Seattle) had a toy Space Needle atop the sign; Nebraska, a foam rubber corn husk; East Tennessee, a Davy Crockett hat; Northern California, plastic wine grapes; Main, red moose antlers. It seemed most of the decor had been purchased at Disneyland which happened to be a block from the convention center.

Everyone in the galleries kept a particular eye on the Oklahoma sign. That deputation would rotate putting one or more of the seven dwarfs on their sign, depending on the mood of convention at the particular moment. When the debates were testy, up went Grumpy. When the debate turned tedious, or inane, up went Dopey. And so on.

The Diocese of Virginia sign was decorated with a piglet. Don't ask me to explain.

Here's a few photos of the decor on the signs.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

General Convention: A generous pastoral response, we pray

ANAHEIM -- As we prepare to depart California, please let me offer a few last thoughts on the General Convention that is now finished. Many words have already flown, reaction in some quarters is already extreme. Yet, there remains many conversations ahead, more than a few questions and much work to be done.

The biggest development coming out of the Anaheim convention, the one with all the headlines, is that our Episcopal Church took two significant steps to fully include gays and lesbians in the full life of the church. The convention declared, in effect, an end to the moratorium on ordaining new bishops who are openly gay. The other was to approve a resolution providing for a "generous pastoral response" around same-sex blessings. What that phrase will mean in our parishes remains the work of all of us and our bishops.

The convention also declared its willingness to remain fully engaged in the life of the Anglican Communion, but clearly understood that a cost will be paid in our relationship with the communion. How that will play out remains to be seen. Commentators will note that the Windsor Report is all but dead, but that has been true for some time. Perhaps it never had a chance; I will leave that to another day.

I am mindful that many people read this blog, and I do not want to put words into the mouth of our bishops. They speak for themselves, and will return home to answer questions and clarify the meaning of their work and words. I hope that our bishops will issue a pastoral letter clarifying what they mean by a "generous pastoral response" on same-sex blessings. I hope each diocesan bishop, including ours in Virginia, will write such a letter to their respective diocese explaining the way ahead as they see it; some bishops have already done that before leaving Anaheim.

And I hope we will give our bishops and our deputies a generous pastoral response. They worked very, very hard, grappled with difficult issues, and somehow managed to keep their respect for each other and their sense of humor.

The major reason I go to General Convention, even though this time around I had no official role, is to experience for a few days the breadth and diversity of our church. Worshipping with strangers from Missouri and Alaska just took my breath away. I heard some of the most moving and prophetic preaching of my life from our own Presiding Bishop Katharine, and Stephen Charleston, and Mike Kinman and Brian McLaren.

We sang favorite old hymns; worshipped with a big jazz band; danced to rock music; chanted Taize, and sampled worship forms that I am not sure yet have a name. Some will be lasting, others will fade away, and all were delightful and genuine attempts at loving God.

The Exhibit Hall was worth the trip by itself. The hall was filled with displays not just by vestment vendors, but by religious orders and educators and artisans. Military chaplains, including my friend Col. Carl Wright, had a booth, and they wore dress uniforms and fatigues. They reminded me that the gospel is preached on battlefields and in dangerous places by courageous people.

The work of convention seemed crushing, and deputies and bishops often looked exhausted. The Episcopal Church budget endured huge cuts -- Bishop Katharine said it would feel to many like they "had a heart attack," and it indeed it did. But the budget also presented a huge opportunity to focus our church on mission to the wider world, to truly look at how we are called, in Katharine's words, to "speak a word of healing to a world desperately in need of it."

We also revisited the e-word -- evangelism. We were told once again that we are called to be more than simply "an ancient service organization that meets once a week to do good works." We are called to change lives and save the world by recruiting people to the way of Jesus. Brian McLaren, who is a dynamic non-denominational evangelist from Maryland, told us how we need to retake the word from shabby television hucksters and street hustlers. "Evangelism means recruiting people and transforming them to defect from the old order," he said.

McLaren also thanked us for being willing to pay the cost of broadening who is included in God's church. Yes, there are those in the rest of the Anglican Communion and in Christianity who disagree with us. "You are doing a service by wading into turbulent waters," he said. "Every moment of Episcopal crisis is a moment of Episcopal opportunity."

Finally, Bishop Katharine reminded us "these resolutions only have life as they are implemented around this church. Your job is to go home and help this work we have done become food."


Friday, July 17, 2009

General Convention: Breathing space on same sex blessings

ANAHEIM -- General Convention is over.

The convention ended Friday with a final vote by the House of Deputies on a resolution drafted by the bishops that would allow for a "generous pastoral response" to our gay brothers and sisters seeking to have their unions blessed. It was not a full-fledged endorsement of same-sex blessings, and it certainly was not an endorsement of gay marriage. But it was a giant step forward for this church.

How this plays out in Virginia will take many months, and Bishop Shannon Johnston has signaled he will work with those of us who want to provide blessings for all those living in committed relationships. What such a ceremony might look like I don't know; the resolution calls for developing "resources" for the church. When this will happen I don't know. We await further conversations with our bishop.

But make no mistake, the Church looks different today.

I know that this development will not please many in our church. Many have deep reservations that we are eroding traditional moral standards on marriage; I don't happen to agree, but those who feel differently must be heard and respected. Others will find this too slow and a half-loaf, and perhaps it is. It is up to each of us to take seriously the signs that say "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You" and make it a reality.

My plea is we will give each other breathing space, listen to each other, tell our stories and trust that the Holy Spirit is at work in us and in our church and making us a new creation.

I also hope that we will now stop fighting over sexuality and move onto the issues that threaten our very existence on this planet. I am mindful of Bishop Stephen Charleston's declaration earlier this week that the environmental clock has stopped ticking and the crisis of global warming is upon us. We are God's hands and feet in this world, God's partners, and the Episcopal Church is especially positioned to show how human beings can live together with their differences and find a way forward. I believe Bishop Stephen when he says we are not an accident.

There were many other issues at General Convention, including passage of a budget with $23 million in cuts for the national church, roughly a reduction by a quarter of the budget. Programs were eliminated and staff was laid off. A number of my friends are now looking for work today and recovering from the shock of losing jobs they love.

I will comment further in the next few days about the other issues, our experiences and some of the more zany moments of convention. We ended as we began, in worship, and Lori and I served together holding chalices and serving communion to friends and strangers alike. We are very blessed to be in this church.


Jim & Lori

General Convention: U2charist and Lori hangs out with Bono

ANAHEIM -- We attended Thursday evening a "U2charist," which is a Eucharist combined with the loud music of U2. Most of these are done by playing U2 CDs, but for this event the Diocese of California found a Bono impersonator (see photo taken in the exhibit hall). He sang well but the real Bono probably has nothing to worry about.

The sermon was by the Rev. Mike Kinman, now the provost of the Cathedral in St. Louis and the former executive director of Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation. He told some very moving stories about how everyday people have made a huge impact in the poorest regions of the world.

Convention resumes later with one final legislative push. More later...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

General Convention: Quick update

ANAHEIM - The House of Deputies put off until Friday morning a final vote on the resolution allowing for the "development of resources" on same-sex blessings. The much-polished resolution was approved by the House of Bishops Wednesday. See my post below for more on the issue. Also there is an excellent commentary in the UK Guardian on all this. Click HERE.

General Convention: Same-sex blessings and what it means for Virginia and St. Paul's

ANAHEIM -- As you may have heard elsewhere by now, and on this blog earlier today, the House of Bishops Wednesday approved a resolution that would allow for the development of "resources" for same-sex blessings, and authorize those bishops who are so willing to provide a "generous pastoral response" to gays and lesbians.

What does that mean for us?

This morning I had a conversation with Virginia Bishop Shannon Johnston here at convention and asked him that question.

Bishop Shannon, who voted for the resolution, told me that he will allow us to develop a same-sex blessing ceremony as part of a "generous pastoral response" to our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in the Diocese of Virginia. If we do such ceremonies at St. Paul's, we will do them only with the permission of the bishop, and we will be asked to provide information on how it works so that the wider church can study what we do. We will not be doing this in secret or being sneaky.

The resolution must still pass the House of Deputies, expected to happen later today, and then it will be the law of the Episcopal Church. It is worthwhile reading the full text of the resolution by clicking HERE.

Let me add a few observations: I watched the House of Bishops debate yesterday and I was much impressed by the respectful tone. No one was throwing the Bible at each other, and all seemed to talk of how conversation among the bishops had broadened understanding. Bishop Stephen Charleston said the House of Bishops was learning again how to have a conversation.

At one point, Presiding Bishop Katharine asked the bishops if they would like 20 minutes to talk among themselves about the resolution, and so they broke into small group discussion (which we could not overhear). When they reconvened, they worked together to wordsmith the resolution. "Working on the minutiae of language is valuable," said Charleston. "This allows the House to breath."

As for St. Paul's, I am aware some of our gay brothers and sisters would like to have their partnerships blessed by the Church. We are now approaching the day when we can do that openly and wonderfully, and I give great thanks for that.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

General Convention: Reunions, receptions, worship, light sticks

ANAHEIM - General Convention Wednesday was a swirl of reunions and receptions, worship, music, light sticks and heavy doses of church polity and politics.

For me, the most moving experience was our
worship at mid-day. Bishop Stephen Charleston gave one of the most moving homilies I have ever heard.

He called himself a "Ten-minute prophet," saying he had only 10 minutes to convince us that our highest priority as a church and as human beings must be "saving this planet our island home" from the immediate threat of global warming.

"For years now the environmental movement has told us that there is a clock ticking, a clock, ticking, a great organic ecological clock that is ticking away the time of our lives to that when we no longer will be able to reverse the damage that we have done to this planet through our own greed, negligence and ignorance," he said.

Charleston was bishop of Alaska and is a Native American. He went on to be the president of the Episcopal Divinity School in Boston, and is now the assisting bishop for the Diocese of California in San Francisco.

And he said it is no accident that God has called our church to show the way. "The Episcopal Church comes to its decisive moment in history," he said. "Let your mind be open to the truth of what I have spoken."

At communion, Lori and I were among those privileged to serve bread and wine. We were at "Station 6," and I had a basket of bread and Lori administered a chalice of red wine. Many old friends came to our station, including Bishop Jerry Lamb and his wife Jane.

Another old friend, Carl Wright, who is a chaplain in the Air Force, came to our station, and after receiving communion, he asked for a blessing. I was very, very touched by so many familiar faces coming to my station. My soul soared.

We also looked at the exhibit hall, and were especially engrossed by the "Discovery Center" displaying various Christian education materials. The center was the brainchild of our friend Nancy Tennyson, and the photo is of Lori at the center.

This afternoon I sat in the visitor gallery of the House of Bishops as it took up a proposal for same-sex blessings. A group of 26 bishops Tuesday night worked on a resolution calling for the church to develop theological and liturgical resources and report back to General Convention in three years, and in the meantime provide "generous pastoral response." Among those in the working group was Virginia's Bishop Suffragan David Jones.

The resolution did not exactly endorse same-sex blessings, but it opened the door to exploring what that might look like in the future. Bishop Jones and Bishop Shannon Johnston both voted for the resolution while Bishop Peter Lee voted against.

There was a group of bishops who said they preferred to handle same-sex blessings without legislation, but their effort to sidetrack the resolution was not successful. The resolution ultimately passed the House of Bishops with 104 yes votes, 30 no, and two abstaining. The resolution moves back to the House of Deputies for a final vote.

Tonight we attended a Diocese of Los Angeles event that celebrated the Book of Genesis. As we heard the biblical story of creation, we got to wave light sticks. The photo is of our friend Stephen Carpenter and his light stick.

More tomorrow!

General Convention: Catching up with friends old and new

ANAHEIM - We've enjoyed our first afternoon at General Convention, meeting up with many old and new friends. And we enjoyed seeing my favorite nuns, Sisters Teresa and Alice of the Sisters of the Transfiguration. We've known them for years. Sister Teresa is the Mother Superior at the Mother House in Cincinnati, and Sister Alice is at the house in Eureka.

Tuesday evening Lori and I went to the Province VIII fiesta, and caught up with Bishop Jerry Lamb, who ordained me, and is now the provisional bishop of San Joaquin. 

Paul Brockman, from St. Paul's, joined us and told us that he feels very positive about the direction of our church. We also met with with Donn Morgan, the dean and president of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, who has family living in Charlottesville and told us he plans to visit St. Paul's at Thanksgiving. And I had a good chat with Bishop David Jones from Virginia.

We will catch up more on the doings at convention on Wednesday and download more photos.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

General Convention: Kids there too!

Good morning! We are General Convention bound...

It may interest you to know that convention is not all about serious legislating a conflict about issues. 

It is also about kids.

A youth convention is underway parallel to the big 'ole convention. 

Here are a few photos we've seen so far.

Monday, July 13, 2009

General Convention: Quick update

Quick Update: The House of Bishops tonight took up the resolution that would lift the moratorium on ordaining openly gay bishops, and the bishops added the following amendment:
Resolved that this 76th General Convention affirm that God has called and may call such individuals to any ordained ministry within TEC and that God's call to the ministry is a mystery which the Church attempts to discern for all people through our discernment processes acting in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church.
The resolution, as amended, is back in the House of Deputies. Stay tuned...

Now that I have given you breaking news, which you can probably get faster elsewhere, this blog may be better served if I take a few steps back from the breaking news and let it sit awhile before commenting. See you in this space sometime Tuesday.

General Convention: Resolution on domestic partner liturgies clears committee

The news out of General Convention today is that the Prayer Book Committee reported out a resolution, C056, that would direct the creation of new liturgies for same-sex blessings to be reported back to the next General Convention in three years. 

As a stop-gap, the resolution also states that bishops "may provide generous pastoral response" in those states where gay marriage or domestic partnership is already legal. In other words, the bishop of New Hampshire, where gay marriage is legal, could do something "generous" but the bishop of Virginia, where gay marriage is not legal, could not do anything.

The resolution passed the committee by 6-0 among bishops and 26-1 by deputies. The committees have joint membership of bishops and deputies, but then each house must vote separately. You can read the full text of the resolution by clicking HERE.

Where this goes is anyone's guess at this point. The bishops may take this up tonight, or maybe tomorrow or the next day. Word is that the bishops are working tonight on the resolution that would lift the moratorium on any new bishops who are openly gay.

I'll let you know if I hear anything.

In the meantime, we will be headed to Anaheim and should be there in time for tomorrow's legislative session. We'll give you an update next when we get there, and we will be back this weekend. See you soon!

General Convention: Resolution on new gay bishops moves forward

It is time to check back in on General Convention where developments are cooking. But before we return to the politics of the church I do hope you will scroll down and look at the photos from our Shrine Mont weekend. We had fishing derbies, hikes and dances and a good time was had by all.

Ok, back to convention...

I got a call last night from our own Paul Brockman, an alternate deputy at convention, reporting passage by the House of Deputies of a carefully worded resolution that affirms The Episcopal Church's commitment to remaining a full and supportive participant in the life of the Anglican Communion, and (here's the kicker) also affirming that gays and lesbians, like others who are baptized, must be allowed to discern and respond to their call to serve God in the church. That call may include being ordained a deacon, priest or bishop.

Please note: The action by the House of Deputies does not take effect unless also approved by the House of Bishops. We know that the bishops held a closed-door session over the weekend to discuss the issue, and most are predicting that passage by the bishops is a close call at best. I will keep you posted in this space as developments unfold.

The resolution, entitled D025, would essentially lift the moratorium on ordaining any new bishops who are openly gay. That moratorium had been approved by General Convention three years ago to give the rest of the Anglican Communion "breathing space" in the wake of the ordination of Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire. The new resolution, however, does not repudiate the earlier resolution but, as one of its authors pointed out, is attempting to describe a "comprehensive description of the church's current reality."

You can read the full text of the resolution as it passed the House of Deputies last night by clicking HERE (and it is worth a careful read).

You can also bet that if both houses pass this resolution there will be sharp reaction on both sides of the issue. My prediction is that a diocese will soon elect another openly gay bishop, for example in the Diocese of Los Angeles where the search is underway for new suffragan bishops (assisting bishops). 

How the rest of the Anglican Communion will react is hard to predict; our relationships with some provinces, for example Nigeria and Argentina, are already broken for all practical purposes. There may be more churches who breakaway from the Episcopal Church, but they would probably break away anyway.

You can read the Episcopal News Service story on this by clicking HERE.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Shrine Mont weekend: Photos and more

We've returned from our parish retreat weekend at Shrine Mont, the diocesan center in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley. We had about 130 folks, and there was much doing! 

The kids had a fishing derby and lots of games. Here are a number of photos from the weekend.
We had bird watcher hikes, nature walks, and one group took a big hike up a mountain. In the evening we had dancing and a bonfire. 

Lori gave a talk on cooking tips and demonstrated her favorite cooking gadgets; I did a workshop on parables. And in between, best of all, we both enjoyed visiting with folks, sitting on the porch rockers and chatting.

This morning we celebrated our Eucharist in the open air "shrine" that gives Shrine Mont its name. Shrine Mont hold the bishop's chair, or cathedra, making it the cathedral for the Diocese of Virginia. As Bishop Peter Lee is fond of pointing out, he has the highest ceiling of any cathedral in the world.

Before leaving today, a number of us walked the labyrinth, a recent addition to Shrine Mont thanks to Betsy Poist and a group of volunteers. 

The labyrinth is marked by stones, and the ground is rough earth. Walking the labyrinth I was sharply aware of how footsteps have shaped the walk in the muddy earth.

Monday we will get back to developments at General Convention, and we will be in Anaheim Tuesday for the remainder of convention. There is plenty of time to catch up on that the rest of the week.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Respectful debate on gay ordinations underway

There is a very respectful debate going on as I write this on the floor of the House of Deputies over whether to repeal B033, the resolution approved three years ago that mandated a moratorium on any further ordinations of bishops who are openly gay. 

Thirty deputies were chosen by lot to speak today, and I've listened as we've been packing for our Shrine Mont weekend. Everyone appears to be listening in silence; no applause. 

In talking on the phone a few minutes ago with Paul Brockman, who is there as an alternate, he said it is less a debate and more "statements of opinion."

Those speaking are speaking slowly and respectfully. Some have pointed out that homosexuality is not accepted by most of the Christian world and thus our actions tear at the fabric of the body of Christ. Others have pointed out that we need to be serious when we say "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You." You will be able to read a full account later at Episcopal Life on-line by clicking HERE.

We are headed to Shrine Mont for our parish retreat weekend, and much looking forward to connecting with people. There will be plenty of time next week to catch up on General Convention, so this may be the last entry until Sunday. The vote will be taken possibly tomorrow or next week. Whatever the House does must also be approved by the House of Bishops for there to be any change. And the weekend tends to be light at General Convention (you can expect that Disneyland will be brimming with Episcopalians tomorrow). 

Until we are back on line, blessings to all...

Jim & Lori

New saints headed for the Episcopal calendar?

This gets little noticed in the midst of the noise over the Big Issues at General Convention: Who will be included on the calendar of saints on the Episcopal calendar? 

Our method of saint-i-fying is much less elaborate than in other traditions (no canonization or miracles required). Rather it is up to General Convention each three years to add names to the book called "Lesser Feasts and Fasts." 

The honorees this year include naturalist John Muir, composer Henry Purcell and Frances Perkins, the Labor Secretary in the New Deal. You can read more about this by clicking HERE.

Earlier this week the Prayer Book, Liturgy and Music Committee considered these additions. But here is the rub: 100 names were proposed, and the committee seems to be headed toward including all of them in a book for "trial use" over the next three years. To say that it will be unwieldy is an understatement, and to have 100 new saints on the calendar all at once seems to me to make each one "lesser" not greater.

When I was a alternate deputy to the 1996 General Convention in Philadelphia, it was my privilege to vote to include Absalom Jones, who started the first integrated Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. We made a real big deal of it at convention. It would be great if General Convention could make a big deal for, say, John Muir and Frances Perkins and maybe leave it at that. 

Thursday, July 9, 2009

General Convention: They get busy

I've been a bit busy today, so I haven't paid much attention to General Convention. But I did hear from friends who are on the floor at convention, and I had a great phone conversation with Paul Brockman, who is a member of St. Paul's and an alternate deputy from Virginia. Paul has been everywhere, testifying at various committees on various issues, and he was headed off to one of the big hearings of the week that was considering proposals to allow priests to bless same-sex unions.

Another of my friends told me the major highlight for her today was Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams' homily this morning at the daily Eucharist (the photo is from the Eucharist this morning). Bishop Rowan began with a thank you to the Episcopal Church for inviting him, listening to him, and especially for hanging in there with the Anglican Communion in the stormy debates over sexuality and other issues.

"Thank you too for your continuing willingness to engage with the wider life of our Communion," he said. "I do realise that this engagement has been and still is costly for different people in different ways: some feel impatient, some feel compromised, some feel harassed or undervalued, or that their good faith has been ungraciously received. I'm sorry; this has been hard and will not get much easier, I suspect. But it is something for which many of us genuinely are grateful to you and to God."

This evening I watched a webstream of the floor session, and it had its lighter moments, as when a deputy rose with a "point of personal confusion." The vote counting machines didn't work, but most deputies seemed to be rolling with the glitches. The floor session ended with deputies talking to each other one-on-one in small discussions about how they've been affected by the moratorium on ordaining new bishops who are openly gay. Deputies needed to be open to each other enough to share in this conversation, and that brings me round to Bishop Rowan's homily this morning:
This is what we are here for as a Church. Our life as church declares to the world that God's longing is for a humanity like this, a humanity broken open for intimacy. Broken open: because there is a cost in the creation of the humanity that God longs for. At the very beginning of all things, and at the very beginning of the story of God's people, the word of God speaks into a dark emptiness and brings life and light. 
By sheer divine freedom, God brings light, makes a humanity where there was no humanity, a community where there was no community. And God makes us able to receive his mercy where once we could not even understand that we needed it. In a word, we have been called from nothingness; but this means that we still stand over that abyss of emptiness – an inner void that only the Word of God can hold and fill and make to be something that is real and living. Sin is our constant temptation to slip back into nothingness, into unreality – the void of our own individual desires and agendas, the void of a self that deludes itself into the belief that it is really there on its own, independent of God and of others.

So when God in Jesus Christ restores humanity to its proper place in God's heart, Jesus has to face full-on the strange power of nothingness, the power of the terrors and dreams that are generated out of the self in its urgent attempts to keep itself alive by its own strength. Jesus dies because we don't want to die – to die to our fantasies and self-centred plans and dreams. To follow him is to risk stepping into life by recognising that something in us must die – so that everlasting and true life may live.

General Convention: Welcome baskets, hugs and hope

The first full day of General Convention is now past, and judging by my email and the Episcopal News Service reports, it was a crush of activity. The top of the news was dominated by a committee hearing on proposals for developing same-sex marriage rites, and the testimony was impassioned on both sides of the issue. No vote was taken. You can read about the hearing the reaction by clicking HERE.

Meanwhile, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams held a private 30 minute meeting with advocates for the inclusion of gays and lesbians, but by agreement, no one was talking about what happened in the meeting. The Archbishop later appeared on a panel discussion on the global economic crisis and his comments were quite thoughtful.

"We have suddenly discovered we have been lying to ourselves," he said. "For the last decade or more there has been a steady erosion of trust in our financial life. Our word has not been our bond. We have learned to tolerate high levels of evasion and anti-relational practices. We have lied to ourselves about the possibility of profit without risk."

You can read more about his remarks by clicking HERE.

With all that, what struck me the most were the reports of infectious hospitality amongst those at convention. There was a panel discussion by representatives of four dioceses that are rebuilding after voting to leave the Episcopal Church: Pittsburg, Quincy, San Joaquin and Fort Worth. The representatives of the rebuilding dioceses  reported finding welcome baskets in their rooms, placed by another diocese, and hugs in the hallways. Everyone I heard from told me of warm greetings and wonderful reunions.

And Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the openly gay bishop whose ordination as a bishop has caused such worldwide controversy, had this to report last night, and I leave you this because it gives me hope:
It's hard for me to move from one place to another because of being stopped by countless numbers of people who want to say hello, tell me they have been praying for me, and to wish me well. More humbling still are the many people (surprisingly many, and usually young people) who want to tell me that my election is the reason they're in The Episcopal Church, or more usually, why they've returned to the Church, after year of being disillusioned with the institutional church. Wonderful, but exhausting too. Many seem so very grateful for the witness of New Hampshire to the wider Church. It is often easy to forget what our life and ministry and witness mean to the greater Body of Christ -- and it is a humbling expression of support for all of us in New Hampshire.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Who is the guy in the green jacket?

General Convention watchers are wondering: Who was the guy in the loud green jacket and bow tie who introduced Bishop Katharine and Bonnie Anderson yesterday? He is none other than The Rev. Dr. Gregory S. Straub, executive officer and secretary of General Convention. Here is his job description:
The Executive Officer is appointed by the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies. As Executive Officer he/she oversees all aspects of the work of Church governance, from site selection through supervision and funding of the work mandated by the convention. The Executive Officer may also be elected to serve as the Secretary of the House of Deputies and, if elected by both houses of General Convention, Secretary of the General Convention.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Presiding Bishop: The mission is local

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori addressed the General Convention this afternoon and she touched on many themes around "the crisis" in the church and in the world, particularly the economic crisis which she laid at the feet of human sin. 

"The crisis is about focusing on the most important and most essential things first," she said. 

There is something else she mentioned that won't get the headlines but is worth underlining here, and perhaps somewhat in juxtaposition to what I wrote this morning about our church being more than local.

She reminded us that, in the end, our mission is on our own street, in our own community. Our mission is local, and the church is our parish.

"The church as a whole should not be doing mission work that can be done better at the local level," she said. "Some mission is more appropriate and effective at the parish and diocesan level. This church as a whole, for example, shouldn't be running Camp East of Eden for kids from all over the church." But, she suggested, we could "share our best practices."

Although she didn't say it exactly, there is a certain seduction in these large national church gatherings (having been to them myself) that Bishop Katharine seemed to be cautioning the General Convention to be wary of being pulled into. The General Convention is not the church but is a governing body. Yet the church is greater than the sum of the parts; somehow we need to keep the whole in our sight. "The temptation is to see our small part of God's mission, the one each of us holds most dear as the reason for this church's existence," and then "get selfish."

She also issued a reminder that as hard as we work on building and preserving our church, "the structures of the church are for God's mission but not God's mission itself."

And a footnote to the first day's session: It was closed by a prayer out of the Book of Common Prayer read from an iPhone at the podium. The world turns.