Thursday, July 5, 2018

Convention's Gospel Work

Yesterday, I made it halfway through a blog post, but I never found time to finish. Considering that it was the Fourth of July, when life typically moves at a slower-than-normal pace, that's kind of funny. At General Convention, it's not really a surprise.

Lots of people worked yesterday. Firefighters, members of law enforcement, doctors, nurses, soldiers, and other members of life-saving or life-protecting professions. Housekeepers, baristas, line cooks, taxi drivers, grocery store cashiers, and other members of service industries. Many of us at General Convention were working, too, but I don't think it's fair to compare the work we do with that of ambulance drivers or newspaper deliverers. It's important, but is it essential? It's a responsibility, but it's it also a privilege and a joy?

Yesterday, we hardly stopped to acknowledge that it was Independence Day, a major feast in the Episcopal Church. Partly, that might be because, as was pointed out a few times, the collect for the day, which proclaims that on July 4 our founding fathers "won liberty for themselves and for us," only speaks for white Episcopalians. It was also because the principle act of worship for Convention yesterday was a listening session, in which the sin of the Church in the sexual abuse, harassment, and exploitation of women was acknowledged and lamented. But I think the main reason we didn't bother to stop long enough to celebrate is because Convention thinks its work is too important to take a breath, enjoy a holiday, eat a hot dog, and watch a baseball game. It is? Maybe.

As President Gay Clark Jennings reminded the legislative officers in our orientation, the work of General Convention is gospel work. Sometimes I struggle to communicate that to others in the church, especially fellow clergy who are skeptical of the bureaucracy that is the General Convention. On the one hand, they're right: the money, time, and effort spent in Austin could be translated into paid evangelists, disaster relief, investments in environmental sustainability, or training for clergy or lay church workers. In a way, however, the work of Convention is all of those things. Convention is the apparatus by which those things are enabled. Convention has the power to move money around. It has the power to name the priorities for the work of the Church. It has the power to determine whether the money held by the Church Pension Fund shall support the work of arms dealers or peace makers. And I believe that it's important for deputies and bishops to remember that we aren't here because of what happens in Austin but because of what happens for the next three years all over the Church.

As outlined in our Catechism, we believe that "the mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ." That's our "why statement." That is why the Church exists. You can say that in your own way, but your "why statement" for your parish, for your ministry, for your "branch of the Jesus Movement" will almost certainly be something like that. We exist because God loves the world in Jesus Christ, and we want the world to know that transforming love. We exist because the death and resurrection of Jesus are an end to the power of sin and death, and we are called to share that victorious love with all people. We exist because God's love has no limit and the good news of Jesus Christ is life-changing love for the whole world. That's who we are. And that's why we're here.

Yesterday, I testified in support of resolution A060 because I believe the Church Pension Fund needs to do more to be responsive to the needs of the Church so that its work, its holdings, and its business methods will reflect more clearly the gospel as the Church understands it. I believe that is gospel work. Yesterday, our legislative committee debated the extent to which paid family leave should be provided when a child is born or adopted so that clergy and lay church workers in small congregations can have the support they need to take care of their family and their congregation. I believe that is gospel work. Yesterday, I listened to stories of sexual abuse and sexual harassment and asked God to forgive me and my Church for its sins of omission and commission in them so that we, as a Church, might more clearly represent God's pure love for all people. I believe that is gospel work.

Sometimes the debate gets a little silly. Sometimes we lose our focus. Sometimes we seem to care more about being here than about going home. For the most part, however, the work we do here is about the work the whole Church is doing back home--back in everyone's home. We're here to make that work a priority. We're here to enable that work and share it among us. We're here to celebrate it and learn from it. That's gospel work, and I'm glad to do it...even on July 4.

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