In his opening sermon, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry spoke of a recent survey that showed that 84% of Americans – including those of different faiths and no faith – described Jesus as a spiritual leader worth listening to. Unfortunately, a majority of those surveyed describe the church as hypocritical, racist, misogynist, etc… in other words, not a place they would go to find or follow Jesus, explore their spiritual lives, seek healing or wholeness, or a better relationship with God or their fellow human being. The problem, so eloquently preached by Bishop Curry, is that there is a gap between Jesus and his followers. Jesus showed us how to close the gap by giving us a new commandment (not a recommendation or suggestion but a commandment) to “love one another as I have loved you.” He reminded us that the church has been blessed with ancient time-tested spiritual practices and pathways to do this, to de-center self, to enthrone Christ, walk the way of love, and be part of the Jesus movement.
His words set the stage for a General Convention that did just that. Last week an incredibly diverse group of 400 clergy and 400 lay leaders representing 107 dioceses – not just from the United States but from Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, Center, and South America – joined together for worship, prayer, and a four-day legislative session which passed resolutions on everything from a process to how to revise the prayer book and increase church vitality, to fighting racism, supporting women’s rights to reproductive health, caring for creation, confronting the truth about Indian Boarding schools and the church’s complicity and benefiting from slavery, ending the war in Ukraine, providing better health care and family medical leave for church employees, and working towards and celebrating unity with other churches. History was made on several levels, including the election of a young Latina lay leader as the President of the House of Deputies and an indigenous woman priest as Vice President. Other noteworthy presentations included the retiring President of the House of Deputies preaching about how God is calling us and the different ways in which we respond, the Bishop of Maryland who gave an impassioned call for reparation, and the way the Diocese of Maryland was doing that, and the leader of the State of the Church committee who spoke honestly about decline and change but also about the excitement and energy that comes from vitality being defined as what we do outside our doors. Echoing this, the Episcopal Church centered its budget and work around three areas of mission – Evangelism, Racial Reconciliation and Justice, and Environmental Stewardship.
Because of Covid, many of the traditional times for reunion and revival – events around mission and around the exhibit hall, seminary dinners, gathering of cathedral deans, and the Presiding Bishop’s revival and the Integrity LGBTQ Eucharist – did not happen. Instead, more than 12 hours a day were spent in legislative work. As a five-time deputy with friends from around the church, I deeply missed these events. I have to say, however, that the tone and spirit were one of warmth, humor, compassion, and care for one another that was not always present in previous conventions. There was not always agreement, but there was always love and hope and opportunity for healing and a both/and response. This was not the convention of a church managing decline. This was the convention of a church filled with life, open spirit, inspirited by the mission, and filled with joy. It is a church in which we as a people and a congregation are a part. It is a church that we as a cathedral are called to lead.
Stories and ideas will continue to bubble up. Watch the epistle and the diolog for details, go to the General Convention website or to other sources such as the Episcopal Journal for some good reflections. Both I, Dean Shambaugh, and St. Luke’s members Sarah Braik are available to talk as are all the other members of the deputation from Maine.