General Convention Day 3 – a new PB, a march, and it’s time to “git up!” because we ain’t dead yet

Perhaps you heard that we elected a new Presiding Bishop yesterday?

That was pretty big news. The first African-American Presiding Bishop in the history of the Episcopal Church, the first YDS-Berkeley seminary grad in that office, and the first, first ballot election in a very long time.

You know what else? It’s also the first time in a long time that the election wasn’t about finding a way to hold the various factions of the Episcopal Church together. This election turned out to be a long and thoughtful conversation about how to git going, get moving, start preaching and quit fearing. All four candidates talked about that, and that was the focus of those of us who cast ballots at St. Mark’s Cathedral. “Which of these four would the lot fall upon to lead us out into the world proclaiming the power of resurrection?” And the lot fell on Michael Curry.

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If you haven’t met him yet, find a way. He radiates joy. And it’s infectious. He lights you up with the Holy Spirit so that you light up a room too.

And then after a big deep breath yesterday, this morning we all got up, put on vestments and walking shoes and marched through the streets of Salt Lake City, in a state where to more people are killed each year by guns than by auto accidents, and called for an end to this epidemic of gun violence. I haven’t walked in something like this in years. It was powerful. It was a moment of proclamation. It was a reminder to all of us of the power we have to proclaim “the power of the Holy Trinity is greater than the power of the violence, guns and despair.”

11538154 10152927437056931 5622585378255449080 oThe morning Eucharist was electric. Presiding Bishop Katherine preached with a power and an intensity I’d not heard her use before. She told us that we, like the woman who overcame the shaming and the finger wagging because of her hemorrhage of blood, and drew near to take Jesus hem and be healed, needed to stop listening to the finger waggers, realize we’d been healed and start shouting the Good News.

It was one of the sermons that make you realize you had been thinking about things wrong all along. And suddenly, in a flash of insight, you realized that God loves you, in spite of your flaws, and that God has a plan for you and expects you to get to it. And there are no more excuses for not getting to it.

When the sermon goes up online I’ll try to remember to link to it. Keep an eye on my twitter feed in the short term. And if you find it, give it a listen. It’s really worth it.

And then back to legislative sessions. But today they felt a little different. Sure, it was still the regular grinding of minutia and reports, but it felt like it all had a purpose in a larger context. And that’s exciting.

If nothing else, I’m praying we come home from Salt Lake City renewed and energized in a way we haven’t been in a very long time in the Episcopal Church. And it’s about time. The world has need of Jesus’ power. And we are being sent out to proclaim it.

General Convention – Orientation, Hearings and the next PB

Convention is underway. This morning began with an early morning run, coffee on the go and a 7 AM hearing focused on a proposal to bring the full resources of modern technology and media strategy to sharing the Gospel as widely as possible.

There’s a proposal before Evangelism and Communications to use up to 3 million dollars in the coming triennium to create an online experimental evangelism initiative. We’d be creating downloadable resources, training people in different contexts how to reach out to their online neighborhoods and looking carefully and critically at how effective this is in doing what we want to do. The most common concern in the room was that we weren’t committing enough money and we weren’t moving quickly enough. Today we held hearing on the proposal. Tomorrow we’ll start working on sharpening it up and then hopefully move it out the main floor of both the House of Deputies and Bishops for a vote. (The sooner it gets acted upon, the more likely we might be to find the money in the budget to do this work.) It would a really exciting initiative if it comes about – just the sort of thing I believe the wider church structures ought to be focusing on in support of the parishes and dioceses of the Episcopal Church.

We left the hearing rooms and I had a chance to grab a muffin and a banana on our way into our first joint session – hearing the opening remarks of the present Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies. (You can read the Presiding Bishop’s remarks here. I was delighted with the imagery she was using in her final address – I’ll missing having a scientifically trained primate.)

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The bishops were excused from the House of Deputies and we sat down for the first time this convention in the House of Bishops. People figured out which table they were assigned, greeted some old friends that hadn’t been to a meeting since the last convention and were trained about how to use the electronic media tools that will support the legislative work this convention. The rest of the remarks were preliminary and reminders about the norms of the House – we haven’t formally convened or taken the roll yet, so no business could be done.

The afternoon was historic. It was the first time the whole convention (and really any Episcopalian) was given a chance to hear all four candidates for Presiding Bishop give statements and responses to questions from across the church. There were some amazing and poignant moments. At least two of the speakers were moved to tears as they talked and opened themselves up to the thousands of people in the room. We have four extraordinary candidates. Each one brings different strengths. All four will serve the Episcopal Church well.

It’s a wonderful embarrassment of riches in this moment.

After the hearings, I and the rest of our deputation from Rhode Island returned to the hotel had a chance to debrief a bit, figured out how to grab dinner and then went off to the evening meetings. I went to a presentation by Tom Bair, the spouse of my predecessor in Rhode Island Gerry Wolf. Tom, an actor, has memorized the Gospel of Mark and presents it verbatim in a dramatic retelling. I’ve heard the gospel read through in one sitting, but never seen it as effectively proclaimed as Tom did tonight.

Finally back to the room to catch up on email and do a little writing.

By the way, I submitted three resolutions at this convention. One was really written and supposed to be submitted as part of the report of the Science, Technology and Faith task force, but was left out. It’s on the advantages and challenges of GMO in the food chain. (The sort of resolution that provides guidance for the Office of Governmental Affairs in its lobbying work should the resolution be adopted.) The other two have to do with strengthening our focus on constructive engagement with both parties in the Palestinian Israeli conflict. You can read about those two resolutions here. I think I may have a chance to testify on both of them tomorrow.

General Convention Day 0 – getting organized

I’m attending my fifth General Convention, this time in Salt Lake City where we are being hosted by the Diocese of Utah. (This is the smallest diocese, in terms of membership, to ever host a General Convention, and it looks like it’s going to be one of the very best ever.)

I’ve been a deputy (elected as priest) to four conventions. This is my first as a bishop. The experience is largely similar: long distance walks, lots of happy reunions, frustrating and joyous work and worship. Some things are a little different. The life of the House of Bishops, being smaller and meeting more frequently and with less turnover, is different than the life of the House of Deputies. The bishops know each other well, often having eaten together and prayed together off and on for years. There’s an economy to our conversation, and a lot of catching up since we saw each other last a few months ago on retreat in Kanuga. But this is catching up with a purpose – conversations run to the “what committee are you serving on?” and “what are the issues you’re following this convention?” as much are they are the standard “How’s the diocese doing?” or “How’s your family?”.

Today we registered, received our iPad virtual binders and had our first sets of meetings. I’m just back from the organizing meeting of Legislative Committee 10, Evangelism and Communications. It’s the first time these two sets have been combined and it makes a great deal of sense in my mind. I became interested in communications primary in as much as it allows us to share the Gospel as widely and as cost-effectively as possible. I became interested in the Internet and its associated technologies in particular because of the possibilities that it presented for evangelism. (That’s been a mixed bag on the whole, but the Internet is young and is still well in its adolescence. We know not yet what it shall be…)

The folks on the parallel committee (of the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops) all share that passion. It was evident as we went around the room and introduced ourselves. Some folks had been journalists and syndicated columnists all their professional lives. Some of us were technology folks. One or two were commission evangelists. We all want to do what the Missionary Society (the real name of the Episcopal Church) is called to do better and more effectively. And we want to see what General Convention will do to make that possible.

Pray for us? There are lots of other ways that this Convention will likely make news in church circles, but in terms of real and lasting impact, learning to share the Gospel more effectively and to bring more people into a living and transformed life in relationship with Jesus is the truly important work we’ll be doing. God grant us wisdom, courage and daring to accomplish this, or at least begin this work in the next two weeks.

(PS: I’m hoping to keep my previous discipline of regularly blogging from General Convention. We’ll see how well I manage. It might not be every day, but I’ll try to post regularly.)

Fall 2014 House of Bishops meeting

Tomorrow we will begin this year’s Fall House of Bishops meeting for the Episcopal Church. We’re meeting this year in Taipei, in the Diocese of Taiwan, a diocese of the Episcopal Church. As I mentioned this to people in Rhode Island, there was some surprise that Taiwan was part of our Church – but over the years, as our mission work in the Episcopal Church in the US
took us further and further afield, we have helped to plant a number of church communities in parts of the world beyond the US borders.

One of the hallmarks of Bishop Katherine’s leadership during her time as Presiding Bishop these past nine years has been strengthening of our interconnectedness with the missionary work that is happening around the world in the Anglican Communion and particularly in the Episcopal Church (which is still mostly based in the USA). Relationships have to be attended to intentionally to flourish, and visiting one another is a major part of that work. I’m still new to the House of Bishops, but over the past years, I’m told we have tried to visit a non-USA diocese at least once in each triennium.

I’m looking forward to this visit. There’s much to learn. As I write this, I’m sitting in the airport in San Francisco surrounded by people from countries all around the Pacific. It feels very different that it does sitting in the airport in New York City or in Boston, where you tend to be surrounded with people from nations that border the Atlantic. There’s a westward focus here on the West Coast that reflects America’s role as a Pacific Rim nation, just as there’s an Eastern focus on the East Coast, reflecting our role as a nation state on the North Atlantic. The food in hotel this morning reflected that – salmon, congee and rice along side the typical bacon, eggs and potatoes. (Just as breakfasts in the hotels on the East Coast will often have grilled tomatoes, backed beans – or just crisp breads, cheese and fruit.

Doing the work of telling the Good News requires the teller to be aware of the culture in which one is speaking. Learning to listen to and speak with the people of Asia may well be the great mission field of the Church in the next century. This trip we are taking is a chance for us to get started with that learning. I’ve never been to Asia – I’m excited to learn from the Taiwanese, and hoping to share something of what we are doing in Rhode Island as well. It looks like the schedule of presentations will include briefings on the work and challenges of the Church in Korea, in Pakistan and other parts of Asia as well.

Much to learn! Here’s hoping that there will be time to write and share regularly as well.

Some personal thoughts about General Convention

In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve not had much to say about the recently concluded General Convention. Which is unusual for me. I started blogging back in 2003 during my first General Convention and I’ve been pretty good at posting regular notes during all the subsequent General Conventions. But this one was different; both for me personally, and I think in a few important ways for the whole of the Episcopal Church.

This was a different convention for me because for the first time in my experience I didn’t have a vote for much of it. While I started in the House of Deputies, after the second day, I and seven of my class of bishop-elects were granted consent to be consecrated by the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops. Once that happened the two of us attending as deputies were translated down the hallway of the Convention Center from the cavernous Hall of Deputies to the smaller Hall of Bishops. And that experience of moving from one place to another has colored my whole experience of this Convention.

I was aware of this as the first full day of General Convention drew to a close. I realized, having heard the vote on all eight of us in the House of Deputies, that this was going to be the last legislative session in Deputies that I would ever attend. That was bittersweet honestly. As I remarked to President Bonnie Anderson later in the week, I was struck at the end of the day by the familiarity of the rhythm of the work in House of Deputies. The way people used the microphones, the way the chair managed the meeting, the way we spoke to each other in our deputation during the flow of legislation was the same as it had been in 2003, 2006, and 2009. George Werner once described General Convention as a sort of Brigadoon, which rises from the mist every three years for two weeks and then disappears again. It’s a little different every time it appears, but only a little. And that’s very much true of the way the House of Deputies assembles itself, decorates its stanchions, organizes its seating and talks about itself. And that was all very familiar to me. I knew automatically what was happening, what to pay attention to, when to work on something else.

The last walk off the floor as a deputy was a very private and powerful moment. I was remembering all the tense moments, the holy moments, the moments of decision and the relationships that I had with others in that place. And I knew I wasn’t coming back – at least not in the same way.

The next morning the House of Bishops voted on our consents and we were told to return for the private conversations that afternoon where we would be informally admitted to the floor. (The formal admission took place during the full public session a little later.) Friends were there, my wife was there, people from Rhode Island were there. There were a lot of pictures taken. It sort of felt like the first day of school honestly; there was that sense that a new thing was beginning for all of us. Later, when our names were read, more pictures were taken, and we were greeted by the bishops (in my case my bishop Kirk Smith and the bishop who ordained me deacon and priest, Cabby Tennis) we had our name badges taken away (my red one as a deputy) and were given new puple ones that said “bishop” at the bottom and listed our new homes.

That was the moment that the reality of the election, the new ministry, the upcoming move, all of it, hit me. I have a new home, a new group of people to serve and a community to meet. And I have one to leave as well. The leaving I think became more real to me as I moved from one House to the other.

A number of people asked me about the differences between the House of Bishops and of Deputies. There are two strong impressions. One is that the people in the House of Bishops know that they will be coming back to the next convention. Unlike the deputies who are re-elected each triennium, the bishops are members of their House for the rest of their life. That automatically gives a different rhythm to the conversation. The bishops all know each other, they respect each other even when they disagree and they take collegiality very seriously. One of the bishops mentioned to me that he thought the particular charism of the office of bishop was “unity”. It took me a while to agree with that, but having watched the House of Bishops stress the importance of their communal life which is meant to serve as an icon to the rest of the Episcopal Church, I eventually came to understand his point.

The other is that House of Bishops takes a much longer view of the matters being discussed. I suppose that is a consequence of the fact that they know they’ll be part of the conversation at the next convention and the one after that and one after that… Deputies also looked to the future, but my own impression as a deputy was that if I had a particular issue that needed to be addressed, it needed to be done now, because there was no guarantee that I’d have a chance to deal with it at the next convention. That focus on the long view tends to make the quieter side conversations around the table very different in nature than what I heard, and said on a few occasions, in the House of Deputies. I’m not sure I can explain it much better than this, but if you can make sense of what I’m trying to say, it was a striking impression of the difference.

As to Convention and its acts? I started blogging years ago because I wanted to make sure people knew what was happening from the perspective of someone on the floor. I was one of the first people to do that, and in 2003 I was one of a very few. This convention though, what with twitter and hashtags, Facebook, live streaming, live resolution updates, and many blogs, there was much less of a need for me to write anything. And to be honest, I didn’t have time. I spent much of this Convention meeting people, getting to know the ECW folks from RI as well as the convention deputation, having conversations with members of my bishop’s class, with Bishop Wolf (who’s been incredibly gracious to Karen and me) and catching up with a number of friends. In a word, this convention was more about relationships for me than it was about issues. Perhaps that comes with my new territory and job. Perhaps it’s just going to be once and done experience. But there you have it.

It was disconcerting to come home to a series of three negative articles in the national press all published on three successive days. If I thought there was someone who had something to gain by denigrating the Episcopal Church, I could probably imagine such things didn’t happen randomly. But as bothersome as the attacks were, I was delighted, overjoyed!, by the spontaneous response of so many across the Episcopal Church who wrote to refute the critics, line by line sometimes. I think we’ve come to a place in the Episcopal Church where we’re not willing to stand politely by as people tell whoppers about who we are and what we believe. People are going to respond and not let the charges of being “unchristian” or “merely political” hang out there without a counter narrative being developed. All of the work so many of us have done in communications ministry has really paid off in a huge way during the past week.

Hooray for that, and hooray for us.

My final impression of General Convention is that this is the first one I’ve attended where I’ve returned energized and excited to get to work. Other conventions have done great things and some not so great things. I’ve generally returned emotionally exhausted from the conflict and the pain. But this time, while there was pain for some, the many who rejoiced made sure the rejoicing did not happen at the expense of those who grieved. We’ve come to a pretty clear consensus in the Episcopal Church about the questions of marriage equality, of the shortcomings of our structure, of our desire to move forward together. There was no one present at this convention who desired to harm the Episcopal Church in an attempt to save it. And those things are making all the difference in my hopes for the next three years.

I wasn’t sure after the convention in 2009 that I was going to ever run again to serve as a deputy. Now I’m grateful to know I’ll be returning, albeit in a different role, to continue the exciting work we started this year.

Some Thoughts on the Eve of the 77th General Convention

As chair (for a little while longer at least) of the deputation of the Diocese of Arizona to General Convention, Bishop Smith invited me to share some reflections on the upcoming meeting in Indianapolis.

“Beginning next week, bishops and deputies from each diocese of the Episcopal Church will be meeting in our once-every-three year General Convention. This Convention, the 77th in our history, promises to be different from ones in recent memory. It’s going to be shorter with less time for deliberation or conversation, the presenting issues are different than the issues we’ve been struggling with since the mid-1990’s, and we are in the midst of a pretty significant leadership change.”

More here on the Diocese of Arizona’s website.

I talk a bit about the implications of a shorter timeframe and tighter schedule for the work of Convention, some of the issues of General Convention that I know are of particular concern in Arizona and the larger unreported backstory of a generational shift in leadership. Have a read if you’re interested.

Structure in the Episcopal Church

What would it look like for us as the Episcopal Church to be willing to give a bit more freedom to dioceses and congregations to find structures for governance that make sense in local contexts?

A friend of mine on the Episcopal Church Executive Council, for whom I have an immense amount of respect, has been consistently calling on the Episcopal Church to revision its structure by consulting not with voices from within, but with today’s leading authorities on non-profit structure and empowerment. Her point is that we tend to want to tweak an already outmoded system in the Episcopal Church rather than listening to what is working already in the 21st century.

When we talked about the national church structures in our diocesan convention this past Fall, there were voices from the diocese who were calling for the same thing. We even amended our “structure” resolution which was submitted to General Convention to include similar language.

But the more I think about it, the more I’m concerned that a top down approach won’t ultimately work. I wrote this and shared it with others involved in the conversation about structure:

I’d be very happy to try this [sort of top down, expert driven solution]. Seriously. I’ll vote for it if given a chance.

But I’m not really optimistic that it will work. Even with the best intentions and state of the art solutions, it’s going to be an imposition rather than an organic development. And I guess I’m not all that optimistic that such a thing will succeed any better than what we have now is doing.

There’s a story that the groundskeepers at Princeton were growing increasingly frustrated with the way students were walking across the lawns and ignoring the paved walkways. In desperation they asked Prof. Einstein how to solve the problem. He told them to “pave the paths the students were making through the grass”. The students had already found the best solutions to moving about on campus. The University needed to “bless” that and stop fighting it.

What would it look like for us as the Episcopal Church to be willing to give a bit more freedom to dioceses and congregations to find structures for governance that make sense in local contexts? Our context in the center of Phoenix is different than context of our congregation in Winslow AZ, and is different than the context of the native people’s communities on the reservations. Here in Arizona we’re trying to understand what is essential and what is adiaphora in our polity so that we can be part of God’s mission most effectively in those various places.

I’m starting to wonder what that would look like for the Episcopal Church.

So I’m curious, what do all of you think about such things?

Resources for Arizonans regarding General Convention

At the request of a number of lay and clergy voices here in the Diocese of Arizona, the General Convention deputation to Indianapolis this summer have created a blog to share information and gather feedback.

We’ve called the blog “Arizona General Convention News”. Catchy huh? You can read the blog here:

You might want to bookmark the site for future reference.

A number of folks from our deputation are going to be posting to the blog and will be responding to comments and questions. I can’t promise we’ll be giving it our full attention during the actual days of Convention (we’re not going to be online all the time, and the pace of convention might make it difficult to stay current) but I’m hoping that it will be a useful tool for people from the diocese who want to ask a question or lobby for an idea.

Why can’t the Atlanta process be the norm?

I just posted some thoughts about the Atlanta meeting led by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music on Friday and Saturday. You can read the full post over at the Episcopal Cafe on the Lead. Here’s a bit of a taste.

“I want to give the leadership of the SCLM major kudos for putting together a process supported by appropriate technology and outside financial resources that I think will make this coming General Convention decision over what to do with their report easier and more palatable to many. What this process has done extremely well is to listen to the diverse voices in the Episcopal Church. I participated in the small group conversations. I saw the scribe for our group carefully keeping track of our conversation. Our group arrived at some very interesting insights, some of which were new to me. The group process worked; and when we disagreed, that was recorded too. Later in plenary sessions, the disagreements were recognized and honored. There is not a clear consensus on what the Episcopal Church should do with the report it will receive. There is a shared recognition that either way the decision goes on authorization, there will be some parts of the Episcopal Church that will not be able to bear the decision. But there was no sense that anyone was walking away. They had been heard and everyone was committed to staying in relationship with one another somehow, someway.

That’s what reconciliation actually looks like.”

Read the full article here.

I’m a huge believer that we make the best common decisions when there is the broadest possible consultation. I saw that happening in Atlanta. And I want to ask the Episcopal Church at all levels, why this sort of thing is exceptional and not commonplace.

Christopher Evans: Common Prayer Anglicans

Christopher has written up his thoughts on a piece by Nathan Humphrey wherein Nathan suggests a different binary set of lenses to use when viewing the parties in the Anglican Communion: Federalists and Covenanters.

After pointing out that these two categories may in fact be different than those suggested before (liberal/conservative or reasserter/reappraiser), the whole enterprise of trying to put people in camps within Anglicanism automatically leads to throwing the Anglican baby out with the bath-water.

He calls us to a focus our Common Prayer and even suggests a new name:

“I remain committed to being a Common Prayer Anglican. If we lose our common-ness in prayer, we have lost our soul and the Christ we teach, proclaim, and pray. For it is this Common Christ in common prayer Who is the ground of our being a Body (what ecclesiology is supposedly about), not overlay of theories Romish and Genevan or even Eastern. (For those interested in an Anglican approach, see the works of Bp Stephen Sykes.) The latest crisis will pass and if we have yoked ourselves to some other arrangement, we may still be Christian, but we may cease to be Anglican Christians, that is Common Prayer Christians. Party spirit will hasten that day if we’re not careful. My opposition to the Covenant does not to make me a Federalist per se, but rather one who desires to retain our way: Common Prayer. Our current default federalism and diffuse authority (spread out over many bodies and actors) is akin to that arising from Benedictine monasticism, rather than a concerted effort or choice on our part. And I’d like to keep it that way”

Read the full article here.

A member of the Cathedral here in Phoenix described himself as a mere-Catholic. I like that term too, but I have to admit that I really resonate much more with Christopher’s language.