Sunday, June 28, 2015

Unity of Spirit

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

When we gather for worship on the morning after the election of the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry as the next Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church and hear that this is the Collect for the Day, it will be difficult not to sense that God is doing something pretty spectacular in the life of the Episcopal Church. Jesus Christ himself is the cornerstone of our church. He is where it starts. And from there the church has been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets and, I would add, is still being built upon their successors. Their teaching, we pray, is the means by which we are joined together "in unity of spirit." Yesterday's election was an expression of that unity, and I am proud to be a part of a church that--in formal and informal ways--has identified Bishop Curry as the right bishop to serve in that capacity for the next nine years.

Weeks ago, I wrote in this blog that I would be voting against the confirmation no matter who was chosen. That was, as I hope I made clear, not based on the quality of any of the candidates. In fact, I still believe that any of the four faithful men who were candidates for the office would have done a wonderful job, and I would have been proud to call any of them my Presiding Bishop. I intended to vote no because of the process behind the decision. I will not rehash that entire argument here, but I want to stress that the process for selecting a PB is broken. Partly that has to do with the money and time we spent--over $200,000 and two years. Partly that has to do with the still unclear expectations our church is placing upon our PB--is he/she to be a visionary or an executive or a pastor or a president or all of those or none of those? Mainly, however, is has to do with the fact that no one other than bishops is entitled to vote.

Several times--both here at Convention and back at home before we arrived--people asked me for whom I would vote. I honestly did not have an answer. I never thought of it that way. Why? Because I don't get to vote. None of the deputies does. Yes, the Joint Nominating Committee, consisting of all orders of ministry, presented to us an excellent slate of nominees, but OUR next Presiding Bishop is chosen only by bishops. As the office of the PB has grown in power and importance (from a simple presider in the House of Bishops to a primate and leader in our church), so too has the distance between bishops and the rest of the leadership of our church. Those things, of course, move in parallel. As the PB becomes more of a primate and the process to choose him/her does not adapt to involve everyone in the election, the gap between the decision makers in our church--bishops on one side of the divide and everyone else on the other--widens and widens and widens. For that reason--because our church desperately needs to be pulled back together--I intended to vote no on confirmation. But I didn't.

I proudly voted for the confirmation of Michael Curry because, over the past few weeks and especially during this Convention, it has become clear to me that Bishop Curry is the clear choice of the entire Convention and the entire Episcopal Church. A first-ballot election for PB is unheard of. (Ballots weren't publicized until 1997, and there hasn't been one since, and several bishops expressed no memory of it happening before that, either.) When the candidates spoke to the House of Deputies, the room was consumed by "amens" and head-nods and smiles and other tangible signs of hope and endorsement whenever Bishop Curry spoke. No, his answers weren't the best. Yes, the other candidates said some very important things. But Bishop Curry represents a choice that exceeds the words he said or the experiences on his resume. In my estimation, built upon observations and conversations with others, he represents our collective hope for the unity, revitalization, and Jesus-centered future of the Episcopal Church.

There is still much to discuss at this Convention. What will we decide on same-sex marriage? Will we recast the structures of this church to shift the balance of power? Will the political rangling over whose voice is the loudest at the table--the PB's, the PHoD's, the Executive Council's, the House of Bishops, the House of Deputies--rip us further apart? Will the lack of consensus on these critical issues threaten to plunge us into further division when we leave Utah without settling our disputes? Actually, the election of Bishop Curry, I think, changes all of that. Sure, any of that can happen. No, I have no idea how things will work out. But I have a deep-seeded hope in my soul, and I feel that hope in others, and I believe that the hope we have expressed so far at this convention will carry the day. I believe what we pray this morning--that the teaching of the apostles and prophets, when built upon the foundation of which Jesus Christ himself is the cornerstone, leads us to unity of spirit. This is a time for unity, and I believe that unity will prevail.

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