Evangelism Charter for The Episcopal Church

It's no secret that our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is a fan of evangelism. He came out of the gate after his election talking about our church as, "The Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement." In his first two years, he hosted revivals all over the country, energizing Episcopalians everywhere to no longer keep quiet about the good thing they've found in The Episcopal Church.

For this year's General Convention, the Presiding Bishop named evangelism as one of our pillars of focus for our work together. It was the topic of one of the three joint sessions we had with the House of Bishops for reflection and conversation. He presented us with an Evangelism Charter for consideration and approval, which was done by both houses. The charter calls on The Episcopal Church to a renewed commitment to evangelism. The charter is as follows:

Every baptized Episcopalian has vowed to proclaim with our words and our lives the loving, liberating, and life-giving good news of Christ. Through the spiritual practice of evangelism, we seek, name and celebrate Jesus' loving presence in the stories of all people - then invite everyone to MORE. How and why do we live this commitment?

Evangelism OF the Church
"
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment." - Matthew 22:37-38

With God's help, as followers of Jesus Christ, we will...
         Recognize and live into our own belovedness as children of God
         Engage daily practices of prayer, scripture reading, worship, and service
         Recall times in our lives when the love of God has been real and present to us
         Articulate our own story of experiencing God's love for us

Evangelism BY the Church

"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." - Acts 1:8

With God's help, as bearers of the Good News of Jesus Christ, we will...
         Invite and listen deeply to the stories of everyone we encounter
         Name and celebrate stories of the presence of God in Christ everywhere
         Share our stories of encounter, good news, and resurrection in Jesus
         Plant seeds of hope, and trust God to give the growth

Evangelism FOR the Church

"So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God...In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord." - Ephesians 2:19-21

With God's help, as members of the Body of Christ we will...
         Allow ourselves and our churches to be transformed by new relationships
         Discover a fresh approach to the gospel as we gain new perspectives
         Invite others to discover their own belovedness in Christ
         Grow more servants for the Jesus Movement to change the world

 What does evangelism in the Episcopal Church look like? I know what many Episcopalians don't want it to look like. Generally we aren't the kind of Christian to stand on a street corner with a bullhorn, or to go door-to-door handing out pamphlets, or spontaneously walk up to a stranger and start a conversation with, "Do you know about Jesus?" One could argue that our reticence to such action displays a lack of conviction and courage. While that might not be wholly inaccurate, there is more in our history, theology, and church culture that makes us unsure of what we may consider a stereotypical understanding of evangelism.

But what is evangelism, exactly? Let's back into that question and start with this one: What do you do when you go to the theater and see a movie you really loved? Do you go home and think to yourself, "That was nice." Or, do you go to church or a dinner party and tell your friends how much you enjoyed it and why? You're excited about your positive experience and want everyone you know to benefit from the same experience. You want friends to go to the movie so they can enjoy the movie, too, because you like your friends and want happy things for them. Right?

So why not do the same thing when you have a positive spiritual experience? Maybe you hear the Presiding Bishop give a great sermon or you attend a fulfilling and inspiring workshop. We should want our friends to experience the same joy and inspiration and, therefore, want to share it with them. Why is it we can tell someone about a great movie or a delicious new type of potato chip at the grocery store but we become tight-lipped about transformative religious experiences?

I'll admit to struggling myself with proactive evangelism. I think I hide behind my collar some, waiting for the questions that often come rather than volunteering information. But that's like waiting for visitors to walk through the doors of the church to welcome and invite them. To do so is expecting the non-Episcopalian to do most of the work before we engage.

A couple of nights ago, our deputation had a great experience related to evangelism that naturally grew out of our dinner gathering. We were sitting outside on the restaurant patio, with a small, low barrier separating us from the sidewalk. A homeless man walked up, greeted us, and asked for some money. One of our deputies works with the homeless population in Atlanta through Church of the Common Ground. She found a few dollars, stood up, walked through the gate, and then invited the gentleman to sit with her on a bench close by. She visited with him for ten or fifteen minutes, looking him in the eyes and resting her hand on his shoulder. A little later, a homeless man who was deaf walked up to us and shared his sign with us that told his story and needs. We found some money to share with him and smiled as we shook hands with him.

Our server watched all of this. At the end of the meal, he asked us, "Thank you for doing what you did. Is there a church near here I could go to?" It turned out that he was newly moved to Austin and had a heart for homeless ministry. He grew up Mormon and has been searching for a new church home. He has been moved by his interactions with Episcopalians during General Convention, even saying, "Can y'all come back every year?" With joy and enthusiasm, our deputation started telling him about the Episcopal Church and a congregation close by that, indeed, has a vibrant homeless ministry. We said, "We would love to have you in The Episcopal Church and hope to see you at General Convention in three years!"

We do evangelism first because we are excited and energized by what we've found in The Episcopal Church. We continue it because we think others likewise will benefit from similar experiences and relationships. But it catches fire in our hearts because we realize how much we benefit from extending an invitation. The work of evangelism is a spiritual practice, not just an obligation of discipleship. When we invite others to be a part of the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement, we open the door to relationships. We hear the stories of the people we encounter and we are the richer for it. Maybe we hear about their own faith journey and how they love the church they currently attend, and we get to celebrate the joy of faith together. Maybe we hear someone's story of being injured or rejected by the church and we get to make apologies on behalf of other Christians, inviting them into a different kind of Christian community. Maybe we hear how someone has felt lonely and without direction and we get to tell them about a family that is eager to invite them into relationship and introduce them to an understanding of God that is full of love and purpose.

We heard an excellent sermon last night from the Rt. Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, bishop of the Diocese of Indianapolis, and she asked us if we were ready to leave General Convention, taking the energy from this place to tackle with courage and enthusiasm the challenges that face us. She included a push for evangelism in her sermon, pointing out that evangelism is going out into the world to see where God already is at work. The world is hungry for what the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement has to offer and The Episcopal Church certainly needs the stories, relationships, and people who will become a part of our movement when we share it.

Prayer Book Non-Revision

In a previous post, I outlined the arguments for and against the revision of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. This is a follow-up to that post with updates of what has happened and what it means for the Episcopal Church.

The House of Deputies amended resolution A068, which called for spending just under $2 million over the next triennium to begin the process of revising our current prayer book, and sent it to the House of Bishops for their consideration. The intention was for the committees of the national church to spend the next three years gathering liturgical resources and input from around the church in preparation for the intensive revision process.

The House of Bishops had a hearty debate about the resolution on their floor, which led them to completely rewrite the resolution and offer a different way forward for the church. The amended (rewritten) resolution A068 came to the floor of the House of Deputies yesterday, July 11, and the House of Deputies concurred with the amended resolution. This means we passed the resolution without further amendment. The final version of A068 is as follows:

A068 Plan for the Revision of the Book of Common Prayer

Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, That the 79th General Convention, pursuant to Article X of the Constitution, authorize the ongoing work of liturgical and Prayer Book revision for the future of God’s mission through the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement. And, that it do so upon the core theological work of loving, liberating, life-giving reconciliation and creation care; and be it further

Resolved, That our methodology be one of a dynamic process for discerning common worship, engaging all the baptized, while practicing accountability to The Episcopal Church; and be it further

Resolved, That the 79th General Convention create a Task Force on Liturgical and Prayer Book Revision (TFLPBR), the membership of which will be jointly appointed by the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies, and will report to the appropriate legislative committee(s) of the 80th General Convention, ensuring that diverse voices of our church are active participants in this liturgical revision by constituting a group with leaders who represent the expertise, gender, age, theology, regional, and ethnic diversity of the church, to include, 10 laity, 10 priests or deacons, and 10 Bishops; and be it further

Resolved, That this Convention memorialize the 1979 Book of Common Prayer as a Prayer Book of the church preserving the Psalter, liturgies, The Lambeth Quadrilateral, Historic Documents, and Trinitarian Formularies ensuring its continued use; and be it further

Resolved, That this church continue to engage the deep Baptismal and Eucharistic theology and practice of the 1979 Prayer Book; and be it further

Resolved, That bishops engage worshiping communities in experimentation and the creation of alternative texts to offer to the wider church, and that each diocese be urged to create a liturgical commission to collect, reflect, teach and share these resources with the TFLPBR; and be it further

Resolved, That the TFLPBR in consultation with the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution and Canons is directed to propose to the 80th General Convention revisions to the Constitution and Canons to enable The Episcopal Church to be adaptive in its engagement of future generations of Episcopalians, multiplying, connecting, and disseminating new liturgies for mission, attending to prayer book revision in other provinces of the Anglican Communion; and be it further

Resolved, That liturgical and Prayer Book revision will continue in faithful adherence to the historic rites of the Church Universal as they have been received and interpreted within the Anglican tradition of 1979 Book of Common Prayer, mindful of our existing ecumenical commitments, while also providing space for, encouraging the submission of, and facilitating the perfection of rites that will arise from the continual movement of the Holy Spirit among us and growing insights of our Church; and be it further

Resolved, That such revision utilize the riches of Holy Scripture and our Church’s liturgical, cultural, racial, generational, linguistic, gender, physical ability, class and ethnic diversity in order to share common worship; and be it further

Resolved, That our liturgical revision utilize inclusive and expansive language and imagery for humanity and divinity; and be it further

Resolved, That our liturgical revision shall incorporate and express understanding, appreciation, and care of God’s creation; and be it further

Resolved, That our liturgical revision take into consideration the use of emerging technologies which provide access to a broad range of liturgical resources; and be it further

Resolved, That the SCLM create a professional dynamic equivalence translation of The Book of Common Prayer 1979 and the Enriching Our Worship Series in Spanish, French, and Haitian Creole; and that the SCLM diversify the publication formats of new resources, liturgies and rites to include online publishing; and be it further

Resolved, That this church ensure that, at each step of the revision process, all materials be professionally translated into English, Spanish, French, and Haitian Creole, following the  principles of dynamic equivalence and that no new rites or liturgical resources be approved by this church until such translations are secured; and be it further

Resolved, that the TFLPBR shall report to the 80th General Convention; and be it further

Resolved, That there being $201,000 in the proposed budget for the translation of liturgical materials, that the Executive Council be encouraged to identify additional funds in the amount of $200,000 to begin this liturgical revision.

Ok. So what does that all mean? First, it means no new prayer book, not for a long time. This resolution seeks a path that leaves the current prayer book intact while pursuing alternate liturgies to better represent the whole of the church. The language of the resolution is that the 1979 Book of Common Prayer will be "memorialized." The challenge is that we do not have that language elsewhere in our polity and, therefore, there's no real definition for "memorialized." I think the intention is to set the 79 prayer book apart as a work to be honored and respected as the primary liturgical resource for the church. That said, I'm not sure what the result will be. I can see the 79 prayer book continuing as the gold standard for primary use but I can also see it relegated to the status of artifact, finding its way to being displayed under glass, idolized and mythologized but rarely used. Editorially, I will point out that Episcopalians are generally thrilled by the release of new translations and interpretations of the Bible but pitch a fit at the prospect of prayer book revision. It's quite a commentary on our real priorities.

Even though the 1979 Book of Common Prayer will be memorialized and left untouched, the church will be embarking on liturgical exploration and the production of alternate liturgies. A task force will be formed, consisting of thirty members: ten lay members, ten priests or deacons, and ten bishops. Specifically, the resolution calls for this task force to be fully representative of the diversity found in the Episcopal Church. The work of this task force will be twofold and they are to report to the next General Convention in 2021 in Baltimore.

First, the task force is to collect and process work that is to be done by each diocese. The dioceses of the church are urged to create their own liturgical commissions to collect alternate resources already in use in member congregations and to encourage liturgical exploration. The task force will take these alternate liturgies and use them as resources in their work to compile liturgies that they will recommend for use by the whole church at future General Conventions. Locally, that means churches like our own will be encouraged to explore liturgical options as best suit our own community, under the direction and approval of the bishop.

Second, the national task force is to examine the canons of The Episcopal Church and recommend changes to the next General Convention that would "enable The Episcopal Church to be adaptive in its engagement of future generations of Episcopalians, multiplying, connecting, and disseminating new liturgies for mission, attending to prayer book revision in other provinces of the Anglican Communion." One of the issues this tries to resolve is that the church doesn't have an official category for liturgies called "trial liturgies," or "alternate liturgies." Given the number and variety of new liturgies that will come out of the work of this task force, it will be even more important for the church to have a clear understanding of these categories. Questions are bound to arise around the whom, when, and where for the use of these liturgies. Will all liturgies be approved for the entire church or will their usage be dependent on Episcopal (bishop's) oversight and approval? Will they all be allowed for use at principle Sunday services or only for weekday or weeknight services? I can imagine any number of concerns and questions that may bubble up from this new approach and hope the task force will shine a light on an orderly path forward.

We aren't the only province in the Anglican Communion to struggle with this issue. For as precious as we can be about our prayer book, imagine what it must be like in England, the home of the original prayer book, to discuss prayer book revision! The task force called for by this resolution is to consult with other Anglican provinces to learn from their recent experiences and hear about their solutions.

Two other concerns that came up during debate on the floors of both houses were satisfactorily answered in the amended resolution. There was great fear in the House of Deputies that the original resolution would pull too much money and too many resources away from the work of translating the current prayer book into the other languages of The Episcopal Church. The approved amended resolution cuts the cost by 90%, reducing the budget for the work from almost $2 million to $200,000. First, this relieved strong objections in both houses about the originally proposed amount and how that would create a financial drain that would adversely affect other ministries of the church. Secondly, it specifically assured our non-English speaking members that the work of translation of current liturgical resources is a priority. The amended resolution further affirms the importance of translation by ordering the task force to provide translations of their reports throughout their work.

I am interested and cautiously excited by this resolution. I think this approach will expedite the process for bringing vibrant and expansive liturgical options into the life of the church. At the same time, I am resistant to the idea of The Episcopal Church having so many options that we cease to be a people of common prayer. If you have thoughts on this resolution or ideas for our liturgy that you would like to be a part of this experimentation period, please come and see me. I welcome those conversations and ideas.

Women and General Convention

Every General Convention has issues that come to the foreground and often cast a shadow over most of the rest of the work done in our time together. Prayer Book revision, along with conversations around immigration and refugees rightly has attracted, much attention but so much more is being discussed and addressed. A fair amount of legislation has been proposed about historically women's issues as the Episcopal Church continues to work diligently on gender equality within the church. This year's GC is highlighting the needs and successes of Episcopal women every day in one way or another.

The need for these conversations came to our immediate attention during our first day of legislative sessions. The chair issued an apology to a deputy who was denied entry onto the floor because she was a nursing mother and needed to take her infant with her to her seat. Current house rules do not provide for infants or children being allowed onto the floor, so the nursing mother was forced to forfeit her participation in the legislative session in favor of feeding her child. The chair pointed out how this unfortunate event showed the house how the rules need to be altered. Resolution D087 proposes a change to the rules of the House of Deputies to allow nursing and bottle-feeding children to be admitted to the floor while they are being fed. It is notable that there is a nursing pod in the back of the House of Deputies provided for nursing mothers so they can enjoy some privacy while still listening to the session. It also means mothers don't have to sit in a bathroom stall to feed their infants.

Most of the proposed legislation addressing women's issues targets the history and effects of sexual abuse and misconduct in the church. Perhaps the most notable and universal resolution on this is D016, which calls for the establishment of a Task Force for Women, Truth, and Reconciliation for the purpose of helping the church confront the abuse of power to silence women victims of sexual abuse in the history of the church. Among other things, the resolution calls for the task force to "create truth and reconciliation process to guide churches, diocese, provinces, and the general Church as they develop their own paths for reconciliation and restoration."

You may wonder about the need for such a task force. Personally and over the course of this General Convention, I have listened to too many stories from lay and clergy women in our church who were told it was their responsibility not to talk about the sexual abuse and harassment they experienced at the hand of others in the church. I know lay and clergy women who were directed and forced to sign gag orders, requiring that they would never speak about their victimization. There are far too many stories that have never been shared and which need to be heard. This task force would help expose this history and open a path for healing.

Resolution D035 proposes to extend the statute of limitations for reporting sexual abuse and harassment. This expands the rights for victims of abuse by giving them more time to come forward. Because of the shame and embarrassment felt by many victims, it can take years for them to feel empowered enough to come forward, if they ever do.

Several resolutions specifically address the problems faced by female clergy. Fear of retaliation is a real barrier to women clergy to reporting abuse and harassment. Women attending General Convention have shared their stories of being threatened by their bishops when they came forward to report abuse. Generally, these threats come in the form of, "I'll make sure you never work in this church again if you do this."

Other resolutions address the problem of sexism in hiring and pay inequality. On average nationally, female clergy are paid a fraction of that of their male counterparts for the same work and positions. Women also are not considered for rectorship positions at large parishes or for bishop elections at a rate in proportion to their representation among clergy generally. Monday, July 9, was Purple Stole Day, when deputies and bishops were encouraged to wear purple stoles to show their support for electing more women to the episcopacy. Often this problem of access to career paths for women is referred to as, "The Stained Glass Ceiling." Resolution D060 seeks to address this problem by calling for a task force to research sexism in the church and "the role it plays in pay equity, status, and gender-based harassment."

Of course, I cannot talk about women at GC without applauding the presence of the Episcopal Church Women (ECW).  They hold their triennium meeting concurrent with General Convention. In Austin, the ECW meeting is on the other side of the convention center from the House of Deputies. Wonderfully, this means deputies and ECW members are bumping into each other in the hallways to share their experiences, thoughts, and concerns.

The triennial United Thank Offering (UTO) ingathering was part of the offertory during Friday's GC Eucharist. Representatives from every diocese presented cards representing the amount they had collected over the past three years. We all celebrated the announcement that over $3.7 million was gathered during the last triennium. These monies are distributed through grants all over the world, funding necessary and exciting ministries.

Navigating the Prayer Book Debate

A hot topic at General Convention (GC) is whether or not to begin the  process of revising the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. The resolution being debated is A068, "Plan for the Revision of the Book of Common Prayer," proposing a time of exploration, resource gathering, and church-wide listening over the next triennium.  The cost over the next three years for this work is projected as being just under $2 million. This would fund only the first three years of a projected 12-15 year process

The initial question may be, "Why do we need to revise the Prayer Book?" Many people at GC are asking the same question while others feel this process should have begun nine or twelve years ago. Theology in The Episcopal Church (TEC) deepens and widens with every year that passes. We believe in the continued revelation of God and understand our inability to fully comprehend the vastness of God. That's not to say we don't have core beliefs, rather, together we continue to explore and plumb the depths of those beliefs and how they apply to our lives.

Almost forty years have passed since our current prayer book came into use by approval of GC. Think about your lifetime of faith. How much has your understanding of God changed over the past forty years? How has your understanding of the divine shifted and your relationship with Christ matured? The church is a living being and we collectively mature and change as we live together in ministry and liturgy.

Over the past forty years, our theological maturity has been challenged and furthered by the Collect for Mission in the current BCP (pg. 101),

"Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen."

Jesus spread his arms wide, wide enough to embrace the whole world. The question before us is, "As the Body of Christ in the world, has the church done likewise?" As we continue to have this conversation, we find ways that we have been exclusive, intentionally or otherwise. This question has pushed us into difficult conversations about race and reconciliation, the church's complicity in sexual abuse and harassment, our failure to accommodate people of other languages, what it means to be open and affirming of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, and the barriers we create for people with disabilities.

Those wanting prayer book revision have pressed GC to consider how our current liturgy fails to reflect our current theology. Increasingly over the past forty years, many in TEC have highlighted the feminine aspects of God, beginning with Genesis 1:26, "So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." The image of God is both male and female but our prayer book uses exclusively male pronouns in reference to God. Revisionists of the prayer book are asking for, "expanded and inclusive language," to better represent the full nature of God.

Testimony at one of the committee hearings by a deputy in a wheelchair provided another example of how the prayer book may be unwelcoming in its language. She challenged the committee and visitors to consider what it is like for her to read or hear every week, "All stand." It may seem like a small and insignificant instruction, but she and others like her are left out. She cannot participate as the prayer book instructs or directs.

Other considerations for prayer book revision include new marriage rites, race and reconciliation work, theological reflection on immigration, and reinforcement of our responsibilities as stewards of God's creation. These are topics of great theological importance that are being lived and worked out across TEC. Revisionists would like to see our Book of Common Prayer, the thing that unites us, better reflect this theology.

A good way to think of the revisionist's perspective is that they greatly believe in the Episcopal tenant, "Praying shapes believing," and they want a prayer book that will help further shape our belief and widen our understanding of God. They want something that can be approved for use by all of TEC that better reflects our current beliefs and might guide us further into new avenues of belief and understanding.

Connected to this argument by revisionists is the issue of evangelism and of retention. The prayer book often is the first entry point into TEC for newcomers. The prayer book, as it stands now, is not an accurate reflection of who we are and what we believe. Or a newcomer enters the church because of public witnesses of faith on the part of Episcopalians (i.e. community service, wedding ceremonies, activist work) but they come to worship and are surprised to find a liturgy that doesn't fully match what they've witnessed on the streets, as it were. One member of GC shared a story of losing new members because the liturgy didn't reflect the evangelism they had encountered and the newcomers said they felt they had been misled.

From the House of Bishops, a few voices rose to speak in excitement for the process as having the potential to further deepen our theology. One bishop called it, "the adventure of revision." Another spoke to the trust she feels for church leadership to invite many voices and perspectives into this process to generate liturgies that would fully embrace the diversity of our church.

Revisionists believe the projected full overall cost of $8-9 million is warranted because the mission work done by Episcopalians pours out of the work, the liturgy, done inside the church. We come to church and gather around the table to be renewed, restored, informed, and transformed to be disciples of Christ in the world. The sermon and Christian formation classes are important but aren't nearly as influential in the lives of most Episcopalians as the prayers of the Eucharist. Revisionists want these prayers to better communicate the fullness of our calling.

But the price tag is a major argument against revision in the eyes of the dissenters. On the floors of both the House of Deputies (HOD) and the House of Bishops (HOB), members of GC argued that these monies would be better spent on mission and outreach. One bishop argued that our Presiding Bishop has been challenging the church to be more outward looking through evangelism and outreach and prayer book revision feels like an about-face to an inward focus. These dissenters feel this process is too self-indulgent and not good stewardship of our financial resources.

Another bishop wondered if the prayer book revision wouldn't be "work avoidance." This same bishop wondered if we would end up with a "shiny new book to put in empty pews." The dissenters see how desperately God needs laborers in the vineyard and worry that this revision process would be too great of a distraction from that work. Revision takes a good bit of money but even more manpower and attention. Dissenters believe we should be better stewards of our time and energy as well.

Those who oppose a wholesale revision are not all opposed to the liturgical needs of the church to better reflect our expanding theology. On the floor of both houses, dissenters argued the efficacy of trial liturgies to meet some of these needs. The hope is that these liturgies would be thoughtfully crafted and would contribute to a later revision of the prayer book. They could also provide for greater diversity and more liturgical options for our worship life together. A concern among revisionists about this option is that trial liturgies often are approved with the caveat that bishops may decide if and how they are used in their respective dioceses, thus not being accessible to all.

An argument from dissenters in the HOD that came up repeatedly was about equal access for our non-English speaking members to the current prayer book. The current Spanish translation of the 79 Prayer Book is very inadequate. Apparently, when the book was translated, it was done so with a more literal, line-by-line approach. The translation did not take into account how Spanish is actually spoken or written, making for a stilting and cumbersome liturgical resource.  Many dissenters are afraid a wholesale prayer book revision would divert too much attention and resources away from the much-needed work of a usable Spanish translation. This is a matter of justice and equal access for all Episcopalians.

From the floor of the HOB came a concern of an entirely different nature. Several bishops rose to speak of their distrust in the leadership of the church. They said that they had little confidence that a good revision could be accomplished by the church at this time that would fully meet the needs of our many members. A couple of them expressed concern that the committee that would be convened to work on revision would not adequately reflect the diversity of the church. On the whole, most members of the GC would like to see revision work done by a group representative of the church, i.e. have members of many races and people, gender identity, sexual orientation, languages, ages, and physical abilities. Some dissenters do not believe a revision process at this time would take all voices into consideration.

At the heart of the debate are questions of identity. Who are we? Does our worship shape our missional work or does that work shape our worship? Are we capable of crafting liturgy that can reflect our great diversity? Is it ok for our liturgy to not reflect the full breadth and depth of our theology because our work outside of Sunday mornings is the bigger witness to who we are? How do we best manage our shared resources to collectively act as the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement?

 

 

Passion and Activism

Yesterday, the whole Demmler family attended the prayer vigil at the T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor, TX, which houses some of the mothers of the immigrant families that have been separated at the US-Mexico border. The organizers had hoped we would be close enough for the women inside to hear us praying for them but we were placed in an athletic field several hundred yards away. That didn't stop the 1,000 plus gathered from praying though. As we all know, the power of prayer is not limited by distance or location. We learned later that the women could see us through their windows and stayed plastered to those windows, watching the whole service until the last bus and car left. They communicated to the organizers that the women cried because they saw in our presence that they were not alone.

The organizers planned an excellent liturgy of music and prayer for us all. Both the President of the House of Deputies and the Presiding Bishop were present and helped to lead some of the prayers. Of course, the Presiding Bishop was asked to speak and he did so with his usual enthusiasm and passion for the Gospel. He challenged all present to recommit ourselves to loving all of our neighbors, including the immigrant, the prison guard, the democrat, the republican, the liberal, and the conservative neighbor. His message was one of universal love and rights as imbued by God the Creator.

Earlier in the morning, the group known as "Bishops Against Gun Violence" led a rally and short march through downtown Austin. They had as their guests and opening speakers the family of Carmen Schentrup, one of the seventeen victims of the shooting in February at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. The Schentrup family joined both the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops on Saturday and addressed both floors. They shared their story and asked the church to consider ways to combat gun violence.

Deputies frequently participate in rallies, vigils, marches, and protests during General Convention and individual Episcopalians often join in local and national marches and protests. For many of our brothers and sisters, this is a way they exercise their faith and show their passion for the Gospel. Undoubtedly, God calls us to seek justice for all of his creation. A ready opportunity for this is through social justice work and activism. While it can be interpreted as being political by observers, most Episcopalians would say their activism is not political but Christian.

But activism isn't for everyone, far from it, and we certainly don't all agree on the issues for which our brothers and sisters protest and march. As I say often, the only absolute in the Episcopal Church is that you can never say, "All Episcopalians." We are, proudly, a very diverse group of people; it is one of our greatest strengths and challenges. For every Episcopalian marching in protest, there are others who would never march or protest and disagrees with those who do.

Many Episcopalians, equally passionately, express their faith in community volunteering, nonprofit work, fundraising, feeding ministries, friendship, pastoral care, and more. There are as many ways of doing ministry as there are Episcopalians. Most, we can never say "all," exercise these ministries out of genuine love for Jesus Christ and his Gospels. What can be said is that Episcopalians are serious and earnest about living in the way of Christ by putting their boots to the ground and getting to work.

It is this work that changes the world. It is this work that helps bring refreshment to dried up souls and food to hungry bellies. It is this work that shines the light of Christ for others to warm themselves and find their calling to join us in the vineyard. We must all listen with open and humble hearts and armed with ready feet. We cannot allow ourselves to be discouraged by the secular world or even one another. I am encouraged by the heart I see in Episcopalians all around me at General Convention and the passion with which they undertake the work before us.

Executive Branch Meets Family Reunion

General Convention (GC) is a swirl of energy and emotions. The deputies and bishops of TEC (The Episcopal Church) gather every three years because we love our church and feel passionately about the work we can accomplish. Episcopalians arrive at GC with strong opinions and convictions, eager to voice them in committee meetings, on the floor of the Houses, over lunch, in the halls, and over drinks. No one can ever say that Episcopalians are all shrinking violets.

Last night and today I attended different committee hearings. Much like at diocesan council, the proposed resolutions are discussed, approved or dismissed, and amended by the committees of GC. Committee members often start their work before 7:30 a.m. and may stay up past midnight. During the hearings, deputies and bishops may sign up at the opening of the hearing to testify to resolutions being considered by the committee whose hearing they are attending. The committees then take that testimony into consideration during their deliberations.

I have learned much by sitting in on these hearings and subsequent committee meetings. Some are informative about the GC legislative process, especially for this first-time deputy. Even more so, these hearings also can be engaging to watch. People come forward to share opinions but also share the stories that inform their decisions. These are often moving stories of faith lived out and sometimes of faith inhibited.

I also have delighted in the family reunion feel to GC. In just a few days I have run into friends and colleagues from seminary and every diocese in which I have served. It has been years since I have seen some of these wonderful Episcopalians and it has been a special treat to have hugs and conversations with them.

Over lunch and dinner and between sessions there has been time to deepen new relationships as well. Yesterday at dinner I was able to hear more of the life story of one of our diocesan alternate deputies. She recently traveled to Ghana on pilgrimage and her perspective as an African American who grew up in segregated Mississippi was invaluable.

After dinner we happened upon a friend of hers, and an Episcopal legend, the Rt. Rev. Barbara Harris. It was an honor to meet this lion of an Episcopalian. She was the first woman to be elected a bishop in TEC. She is 88-years-old and this is her 19th consecutive GC. I have looked up to her throughout my vocation and I am grateful for the opportunity GC afforded me to meet her.

 

Book of Common Prayer Resolution

You may hear today that General Convention today passed a resolution to revised the Prayer Book. That is only half true. The House of Deputies approved resolution A068. You should be able to read the resolution by following this link:

https://www.vbinder.net/resolutions/A068?house=hd&lang=en

This resolution will now pass to the House of Bishops for their consideration. They may pass it in exactly the same form we did, in which case the resolution will be approved by the whole of General Convention. They may defeat the resolution, in which case the resolution will be dead. Finally, they may amend the resolution we passed and send it back to us for approval.

The debate on the House of Deputies floor was civil but passionate. The committee that proposed this resolution is chaired by the Very Rev. Sam Candler of our Diocese. They continue to hold open hearings on their various resolutions and entertained hearty debate on this particular resolution.

Continue to watch for further developments.

Opening General Convention

The President of the House of Deputies and the Presiding Bishop officially opened their respective houses this morning, thus beginning the first official legislative day of General Convention. Gay Clark Jennings called the House of Deputies to order at eight o'clock this morning. One of the first orders of business at every General Convention, required by canon, is the placement of the Bible front and center in the meeting hall for all to see. President Jennings chose the Bible to be open to 2 Corinthians 4:5-11 for this year's convention. The placement of the Bible and President Jennings' choice of text can leave no doubt as the centrality of Jesus Christ and the story of God in Holy Scripture to the work and mission of The Episcopal Church.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry continued with the theme of the centrality of Christ in his sermon at the Opening Eucharist this morning as well as an invitation to the whole of The Episcopal Church. In his conversation with the Official Youth Presence last night, he said that an important question emerged, "How do you love in a world that is profoundly unloving?" He used the story of Jesus and Peter walking on water to illustrate how we are called to love and follow the example of Christ, not once the storms settle, but in the midst of the wind, rain, waves, and darkness.

The Presiding Bishop paraphrased Dietrich Bonhoeffer and encouraged us all to "throw (ourselves) into the arms of Jesus and then (we) might know how to love (our) enemy." He also called on the words of the Civil Rights anthem, "Eyes on the Prize," to say that if we keep our eyes on the unconditional, unselfish, and self-sacrificing love of Christ, we can persevere in doing the work of ministry, even in the most divisive of times.

Curry's invitation comes in challenging every Episcopalian to adopt a "way of love." Volunteers handing out small pamphlets and tri-fold business cards that explain this invitation. Part of the text reads as follows,

"As the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement, we follow the Way of Jesus. His way is the Way of Love, and that love has the power to change lives and change the world. Do you seek a life centered on Jesus? Do you seek to explore and live his Way of Love? How will you or your church, ministry, or network commit to follow the Way of Jesus? How could you join or gather a community for practicing Jesus-centered life?" For more information on this invitation, visit www.episcopalchurch.org/wayoflove or text WAYOFLOVE to 51555.

Curry reminded the congregation that we are branches connected to the vine of Christ and of the importance of abiding in Christ in order to succeed in doing God's work in the world. Through this work, he believes The Episcopal Church, "can help Christianity reclaim its soul." His closing words were, "Throw yourself into the arms of Jesus and let those almighty hands of love lift you up." Then he spoke words, again, from the anthem, "Eyes on the Prize."

During the opening session for the House of Deputies, memorials were read. These are the names of former deputies and other leaders who have died in the past triennium. Included in those remembered where people dear to the Diocese of Atlanta. The Very Rev David Collins served as President of the House of Deputies and was a past dean of the Cathedral of Saint Philip. Louida Bailey was the first woman elected as a deputy to General Convection in the whole Episcopal Church and she was elected by the Diocese of Atlanta. Finally, Suzanne Foucault was included in the memorials. She was the consultant to the diocese for the nominating process for the tenth bishop of the Diocese of Atlanta.

After lunch and dinner, the various committees held hearings on their respective resolutions. These hearings are growing in activity and energy as deputies attend to speak passionately in favor or against the various pieces of proposed legislation. The committee on which the Very Rev. Sam Candler serves has had particularly energetic debates in their hearings. We can expect to hear much out of the Committee to Receive the Report of Resolution A169 in the days to come.

Deputies voted on a number of resolutions in the afternoon legislative session, mostly pertaining to Order of Business matters. One significant resolution that was debated and pass was B014. This resolution provides for a Director's Fee for the President of the House of Deputies. To date, this has been a volunteer position despite it demanding full-time work of the person holding the office. This resolution will allow for the President of the House of Deputies to be compensated for their time and expertise.

A reminder about the bicameral nature of General Convention. Resolutions must pass in both houses without amendment in order for the resolution to pass General Convention. If either house amends a resolution, that resolution returns to the other house for consideration.

A highlight of the after legislative session was a filmed greeting from the many international leaders visiting General Convention. The deputies heard greetings from primates and secretaries from Episcopal and Anglican churches in Ghana, New Zealand, South Africa, the Philippines, Canada, Korea, Japan, Italy, England, and more. It is moving to witness the relationships the Episcopal Church enjoys around the world.

Reflection on the Opening Addresses

The Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies Address the Opening Joint Session of General Convention

Early in the afternoon of July 4, both the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies addressed an opening joint session of the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops at the 79th General Convention. Apparent at the start of both addresses is the tremendous respect and collegiality shared between these two leaders of The Episcopal Church. They both also highlighted challenges the church faces and gave the gathered deputations and bishops a strong reminder that Christ must lie at the heart of all that we do.

The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry spoke first in his usual style, which more closely resembles a sermon than an official address. Most assuredly, no one minded because his words were stirring and inspiring. He opened by reading from 1 Corinthians 2:1-5:
 "When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God."

He followed these words with lines from the hymn traditionally known as "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," particularly the following stanza:
"In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me.
As He died to make men holy, let us die* to make men free,
While God is marching on."

As to be expected, he emphasized that we are not just The Episcopal Church, but are the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement. The importance of this differentiation lies in how we identify ourselves and the work we do. It also effects our loyalties and motivations. The Jesus Movement began when Jesus of Nazareth called his first disciples and his following expanded from there. It was, and is, a movement focused on justice and mercy for all of God's children and one that sees God in even the most contentious and divisive of situations. "The more we are who we are, more will be possible beyond all we ask or imagine," Curry stated.

Curry pointed out that Julia Ward Howe wrote her words at the beginning of the Civil War when the country was deeply divided, not unlike today. It was in the face of strife and division that Howe wrote of continuing to see God at work, His truth marching on in the face of human conflict and war. So, too, Curry said he has seen God's truth marching on in the myriad of ways Episcopalians have been witnesses to the power of the Gospel in our own time of conflict. He proudly listed his encounters with and observations of Episcopalians working with immigrants, protesting at Standing Rock, ministering in Charlottesville during the violent race riot, responding to natural disasters across the nation and beyond, and in our work to combat racism and work toward better care of God's creation.

Curry said we are called to stand "with others no one else would stand with...in the name of Jesus Christ, in the name of love." He also challenged General Convention to "reclaim a Christianity that actually looks something like Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus, who says, 'By this they will know you are my disciples, that you have love for one another.'"

The Presiding Bishop was clear on what, or rather who, must be at the heart of all we do: Jesus of Nazareth. It is the model of "unconditional, unselfish, and sacrificial love" as evidenced in the cross of Christ that ever should be before us as we seek to be the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement in the world.

In closing, he brought in a lesser sung stanza of Howe's hymn:
"I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:
His day is marching on."

The President of the House of Deputies, the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, opened by pointing out she had the unenviable challenge of following the Presiding Bishop, probably the least desirable speaking slot in all of Christendom. That said, her address was equally challenging and profound. She spoke on the behalf of nearly all Episcopalians when she thanked the Presiding Bishop for drawing attention to The Episcopal Church by his, now famous, sermon at the Royal Wedding earlier this year. In particular, she thanked him for using his moment of fame to promote God's mercy, love, and justice.

Jennings pointed out the juxtaposition of the secular significance of July 4th with the lectionary readings that happened to have been assigned for today, all of which speak to the importance of welcoming the foreigner. She pointed out that, "The Bible tells us not to get comfortable because we were once strangers and could be again." Therefore, we are commanded to love the stranger, "even when it disrupts our comfortable relationships with temporal powers." Of course, she connected this to the injustice of separating immigrant families who have entered the United States at the Mexico-US border.

Jennings called on General Convention to commit to being uncomfortable in our work and to use the structures of our governance as a tool through which "the voices of all baptized" might be heard. The House of Deputies and the House of Bishops can choose "how to inhabit (our) legislative process" to fulfill the call of the Spirit and do the work God is calling us to do.

She named the conflict that likely will come in the committee hearings and on the floors of the different houses. She said that the "lack of unanimity will not negate the command to love the stranger." There can be no doubt that the conversations on immigration, prayer book revision, race relations, and more, may grow contentious. But through this work, we must continue to strive for God's justice.

Jennings reminded the joint session of the Gospel reading for the day, "But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous." (Matthew 5:44-45) She said that General Convention is, "Embarking on hard and holy work...Issues will cut close to our heart. As we debate, let us listen. As we vote, let us do so with charity fro those with whom we disagree."

The joint session of the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops gave both speakers much-deserved standing ovations. Neither the Presiding Bishop nor the President of the House of Bishops shied away from the reality of conflict or the challenges the church faces today. Both quoted holy scripture as they held the love and ministry of Jesus as Nazareth as the goal to which The Episcopal Church should always strive. The two addresses combined for a powerful and inspiring start to the 79th General Convention.

Most of the Atlanta deputation arrived yesterday, July 3, though a few were in Austin earlier for committee meetings. Our deputies hit the ground running this morning, attending or leading open hearings for various committees.

The exhibitors set up and welcomed passersby with buttons, pamphlets, and more. The number of organizations and business is overwhelming! Deputies and guests can connect with new nonprofits and mission opportunities, find their next set of liturgical linens, or decide what seminary they might like to visit or attend.

We have familiar faces among the exhibitors. The Rev. Grace Burton-Edwards is sharing the mission of the Global Episcopal Mission Network (GEMN) with passersby. She invites all of us to share our experiences with global mission and outreach work and tag #GEMNstories. They want to hear your stories of ministry.

Dr. Catherine Meeks and others share the good news of the founding of the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing at their booth. We are proud to have her presence and wisdom at General Convention as the founding Executive Director of the Absalom Jones Center.

You've likely heard of  "Tiny Houses", but how about a "Tiny Chapel?" The Episcopal Diocese of Texas has parked their tiny chapel inside the exhibit hall. According to their brochure, this small chapel on wheels is used "to provide a place of hospitality, prayer, or simply quiet rest at festival and community events." Imagine if one of these had been along the Peachtree Road Race route? Or maybe along the tailgaters at a Tech or UGA game?

The staff at the communications center kiosk in the convention center hallway knows what lies ahead for the deputies. They have a "The psychiatrist is in" sign a la Lucy from the Peanuts cartoon. For just a nickel, deputies can have their mental needs tended.

Everyone is all smiles and excitement. Deputies, staff, and visitors greet each other in the vast hallways, connecting with old friends and making new ones. The legislative sessions haven't yet begun and the energy of hundreds of Episcopalians bounces off the concrete walls.

This afternoon, both the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies addressed a joint session of General Convention. They had challenging and encouraging words about the immediate work ahead of us as well as our long-term commitment to the work of Christ as the church. What may have been most apparent was the abiding respect and affection they have for one another.

Next, the joint session heard words of welcome from the Rt. Rev. Andy Doyle, Bishop of the Diocese of Texas. The President of the Episcopal Church Women spoke on the challenge of change, a sentiment echoed by the President and CEO of the Church Pension Fund.

The joint session came to a close but not before the House of Bishops made good on a bet. Two years ago, the President of the House of Deputies, a Syracuse fan, and the Presiding Bishop, a Carolina fan, placed a wager on which house could raise the most money for Episcopal Relief and Development. The success of the House of Deputies meant the House of Bishops had to serenade the President of the House of Deputies with the Alma Mater for Syracuse. And with that, the first session came to a close.