Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Bringing Convention Home

In a few months, the General Convention office will publish a big, fat book that contains all of the actions that we took here in Utah. You could, I suppose, buy one and pour through it page by page in order to get a sense of what went on during these two weeks of Convention. (If there aren't support groups for people like that, there should be.) But even reading every line of the record of the 78th General Convention cannot convey the spirit behind each resolution and the tone of each debate. So much of what has happened here is bigger and more important than what will be put in print, and I hope that in the weeks and months ahead I can convey some of that to you.


Worship is one part of this experience that I hope to hold onto for a long time. In some ways, our daily gatherings for Eucharist are similar to those we celebrate together at St. John's―lessons, hymns, sermon, prayers, bread, and wine. In several other ways, however, they are radically different. How often does one of our clergy slip seamlessly from English to Spanish in the middle of the Eucharistic Prayer? When was the last time we had Native American flute, drums, and dancing on Sunday morning? Our congregation likes to sing, but how often do we have the chance to gather with 1500 people in a massive, resonant auditorium and let the sounds of "Praise to the Lord" fill the whole space? Each day so far, my eyes have filled with tears at some point during our worship because I have found the experience of gathering with the fullness of our church to praise God emotionally overwhelming.


The diversity of our church could, perhaps, be hinted at in a demographic chart, but being at General Convention reminds me that our church is made up of lots of people who look and talk and think and worship and follow Jesus differently than I do. I celebrate the presence and leadership that people of color bring to this Convention. I enjoy hearing from people whose congregations are made up of non-English speakers. I marvel at the unique spirituality of indigenous people. I embrace the heartfelt testimony of individuals who have experienced discrimination because of their identity. At St. John's, our exposure to diversity is fairly limited, but our place within the whole Episcopal Church offers us countless opportunities to explore meaningful, transformative encounters with fellow Christians who are not just like us.


Although we are barely half way through our legislative work, we have already accomplished some remarkable things. The bishops have elected and the deputies have confirmed the election of the first African-American Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry of North Carolina. That moment was significant both as a "first" in history and as a sign that the leaders of the Episcopal Church share Bishop Curry's passion for the gospel―the good news of Jesus Christ for the world. Building on that momentum, we have approved a series of bold and far-reaching endeavors to help our church embrace evangelism and congregational development in the twenty-first century. Later this week, we will debate other resolutions that aim to restructure our church to help us encourage mission and ministry at the local level as we deemphasize hierarchical methods and focus more resources on what takes place in the parish and diocese. Still, despite all of the excitement and energy surrounding what is happening here in Utah, completing the work of General Convention depends upon us―you and me―picking up where Convention leaves off and bringing those initiatives back to Alabama.


Earlier this week, during debate on a resolution about prison reform, Deputy Lowell Grisham from Arkansas urged us to go back to our parishes and speak to others about that vote. The resolution we passed is an important one. It calls upon the leaders of the Episcopal Church to speak out against the "mass incarceration system," and it asks every congregation in our church to take up at least one specific initiative to combat the destructive consequences of our current criminal justice system. The resolution even lists fourteen ideas for such work. But then what? Yes, the final section of the resolution calls for each diocese to report back to the 79th General Convention about the "initiatives engaged at the congregational and diocesan levels," but, two and a half years from now, when someone from our diocese sends me an e-mail asking what we have done about prison reform, it will be too late. The burden of holding up that important work to our congregation falls to me and to you. We must remember it and take it on. Keep in mind, however, that this is only one of hundreds of important resolutions that we will pass. Who keeps up with them all? Hopefully, together, we all do.


In the weeks ahead, it will be tempting for us to focus only on the big, headline-grabbing stories from General Convention―the election of the new Presiding Bishop, the decisions surrounding same-sex marriage, and the outcome of the restructuring debate. I assure you, however, that the enormous bulk of our work is found not on the front page but between the lines. That is where we must turn if the work done here is to bear fruit. Do not stop at the beginning. Dig deeper. Look with me at the many, many things your Convention has done. Support prison reform in Alabama. Look for ways to combat racism in Decatur. Learn how you can share the good news of Jesus Christ with others in a digital age. Call your legislator and tell him or her what you and your church think about providing access to education to all children and youth regardless of immigration status. Whatever it is, however you do it, pick up the work of our church and make it part of the ministry we share back home. Do not restrict General Convention to something that happens way out in the desert. Make sure our church's work comes all the way home.

1 comment:

  1. What a marvelous, uplifting, and inspiring commentary, Evan. May God's richest blessings flow upon you, members of St. John's, and everyone (Episcopalian or not) inspired to action by your efforts to have the convention's work bear fruit.


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