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."


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