|The Bishop and Deputies from the Diocese of Western Mass|
at a a Province I (New England dioceses) gathering
(The Revs. Meredyth Ward and Annie Ryder missing)
Almighty and everliving God, source of all wisdom and understanding, be present with those who will take counsel in Salt Lake City for the renewal and mission of your Church. Teach us in all things to seek first your honor and glory. Guide us to perceive what is right, and grant us both the courage to pursue it and the grace to accomplish it; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(The Book of Common Prayer, page 818.)
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I am getting ready to attend the 78th General Convention, a triennial gathering of Episcopalians; this will be my second time around. We will gather in Salt Lake City from June 25-July 3. If you are interested in learning more about the work of General Convention, here is the site to check out.
As you will see in the banner that runs across the top on that site we work as a bicameral legislative body at General Convention. It looks a lot like the U.S. Congress because the denomination is about as old as the nation, and some of the same people worked on governance in both places. So the bishops meet together as do the deputies - an equal number of clergy and laypersons, four of each from each diocese (plus alternates.) To pass, a resolution must pass in both houses.
Not to get really boring with "inside baseball" here, but part of the work we will be doing in SLC is to consider something called the TREC report, short for Engaging God's Mission in the 21st Century: Final Report of the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church. A lot of work has gone into this report and like all reports, some feel it is not bold enough, some feel it's too radical, some feel it doesn't get to the core issues. Among other things, our work in Salt Lake City will be to try to figure out what seems good and true to us and the Holy Spirit in this report and then take it from there.
Far more exciting to me: we will elect a new Presiding Bishop in our church. Well, to be more precise, the House of Bishops will elect the new presiding bishop from these four nominees. If you are at all interested in these sorts of things, I encourage you to check out their videos. Anyway, the HOB will elect, but the House of Deputies ratifies their decision. If we say "no" then my understanding is that it goes back to them to ponder anew (although I don't think that's ever happened before.)
Although I'm sure I'll post a few things from Salt Lake City on this blog, our deputation is also writing a blog called Conventional Wisdom. That blog has already begun, with introductions of my colleagues starting to flow in before we head out. As you'll see if you follow along on that blog, I get to spend time with some really amazing people. I learned last time (at the 77th, in Indianapolis) that this is no junket! I know - clergy love to talk about how hard they work and I can be as guilty of that as the next person. But truly, the days often go from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. It's an intense experience...
Whether or not you are an Episcopalian, whether or not this post is the most exhilarating one you've ever read by me, I ask for your prayers. A former colleague of mine in Holden used to talk about churches that have a "middle name." I liked that way of putting it, reminding us Episcopalians and Lutherans and Baptists that we are all called to be Christians first. But that said, I like my middle name. The goal is not to be an Episcopalian but to be an Episcopal Christian. But still our peculiar ways are a part of what makes us a certain flavor of Christian. We do things in our own unique and often peculiar ways as all church bodies do. But they work for me, two aspects in particular:
First, I am glad to be connected to a wider body. The Episcopal Church itself is part of something larger - the Anglican Communion, which is in turn part of something much larger - the holy, catholic (universal) Church. Which you could argue is still part of something larger - children of Abraham with Jews and Muslims - people of faith with other religious traditions, partners for social justice with agnostics and atheists of good will. Being together in worship and in conversation with Episcopalians from across not only the United States but also central and south America, Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, etc.gives a bigger glimpse, at least, of what it means to be part of a community where there is no east nor west, no south or north, but "one great fellowship throughout the whole wide earth."
And second, while Episcopalians may resemble more hierarchical traditions because we do have bishops, the truth is that authority is shared in our denomination and the bishops don't just get to tell the rest of us what to do! The back-and-forth between both houses can be as maddening at General Convention as it is in Washington. But the fact that clergy and lay people are elected from each diocese and have to find our own messy consensus with the bishops is, for me, a holy and good thing. Bishops have their role and voice - but so, too, priests, deacons, and laypersons.