Sunday, July 12, 2009

Convention Continues

I apologize for the delay in posting since Thursday evening. Events have not warranted much explanation and I am delighted to say that my wife, Nora, arrived here on Friday evening. I am indebted to the Reverend David Knight, our only clerical alternate to make the trip to General Convention, who sat on the floor of the House of Deputies yesterday (Saturday) while Nora and I attended the Angels-Yankees game at the nearby ballpark (The Angels waxed the Yankees, 14-8. I think seven home runs were hit during this classic non-pitchers' duel).

I am told that I did not miss much on the floor. There were ecumenical visitors who spoke during the lengthy legislative session (our longest thus far) and the national president of the ECW also spoke to the gathering. My understanding is that, besides the consent calendar (involving the quick passage of noncontroversial items), only one resolution was considered.

There has been something of a break today in the schedule. It is Sunday and, as is the tradition, the ECW United Thank Offering Ingathering took place during the morning's Eucharist. I would estimate several thousand people were present for this moving Eucharist, with the House of Bishops vested and in procession. The current Presiding Bishop was the celebrant and preacher, and co-celebrants were the immediate past two Presiding Bishops, Frank Griswold and Ed Browning. It is unusual for former PBs to be present at General Convention (I don't know if it is because they have "had enough" or if they do not attend out of respect to their successor), but I have heard that Bishop Katherine had invited them to be present.

As with previous services, but moreso this time, the music was varied and powerful. The combined musical resources of the church provide for some wonderful and eclectic musical offerings. One of the soloists today was Elizabeth von Trapp, grandaughter of George and Maria von Trapp of Sound of Music fame. Her voice is clear and beautiful. She will be the entertainment at tonight's triennial ECW Event.

I should note that two of our alternate deputies, Margaret McLarty of St. Andrew's, Jackson, and Danny Ray Meadors of St. Patrick's, Long Beach, have had prominent roles as vergers at the convention Eucharists. They have made us proud.

We have had different preachers at the services on Friday and Saturday. Bonnie Anderson, a lay person from Michigan and president of the House of Deputies, preached on Friday. Ray Suarez, senior correspondent for the Jim Lehrer Newshour on PBS, was the preacher at Saturday's service. His sermon was very, very well prepared and preached. He is a thoughtful and insightful lay preacher. It will give me a deeper appreciation of his work on PBS.

The Presiding Bishop's sermon this morning was another example of wonderful preaching by our primate to which I have become accustom. I must admit a sense of inadequacy in taking notes -- my pen will just not move fast enough. However, here is a bit of a summary:

The Gospel lesson and her primary text was Luke 10:1-9, Jesus' sending of the 70 followers out into the world as representatives of his mission. She spoke of the preparations many made for General Convention, including the "verbosians" who exchanged massive e-mails regarding GC issues and plans, and the Episcopal Church Center staff members who made detailed preparations (including two staff members who drove a truck, packed with electronics, cross country).

She mentioned missionaries of years gone by who would ship their necessities ahead to their outposts in coffins, knowing that they would not return alive. "Cultural baggage" was part of that transfer, too.

Jesus, she said, calls us to "travel light" -- to leave much behind, to share the host's table, to rely on hospitality, and to preach peace whereever we go. She posed the question to us: If we travel light and leave our baggage behind, what are we ready to receive here at General Convention?

The 70, she said, were sent "to go ahead of Jesus -- an advance team... They could not share what they had not encountered. " They proclaimed what they knew and had experienced, "the loving Good News of God in Christ."

She oserved that over the years, "the church has traveled lightly enough to take root in many cultures." She asked us: "How much structure do we need? How does culture hinder us?"

She said, "When we hold something lightly, we are a lot more likely to share it -- to give it freely and to move on."

Cognizant of the setting of General Convention and highlighting the immediate missional setting, she asked: "Can you announce peace to someone wearing mouse ears? Can you heal in Disneyland?"

She challenged us: "What welcome will you offer? What peace will you receive?

Mindful of the Eucharist, she said, "Eat what is set before you this morning, and then go out as sacrament -- as sacrament of the reign of God."

At each General Convention I have attended (this is my fourth), I have been moved by the breadth of the church I encounter. We in Mississippi hear the word "diversity" and we primarily think white and black. This is a much broader church and that breadth can be seen clearly at General Convention. The diversity that is characteristic of the Northeast, the West, the Province IX dioceses (international), and other affiliated churches is readily evident. It is delightful to see, and to see all these people sharing in the worship and the work of the church.

I also appreciate the proclamations of the Good News that I hear while at General Convention. The preaching and committee discussions always help me hear the Gospel in richer and more multi-dimensional ways -- recognizing that we need one another to hear all of God's word.

Legislative action will begin to pick up in the next couple of days. Many of the so-called "hot button" issues will be reaching the floor of the houses. Please be mindful that in order for legislative action to be final, a resolution must pass the House of Bishops and House of Deputies in the exact same form. You will likely be seeing news reports of one house taking this action or that action, but those reports may only be preliminary in their status.

I am relatively certain that some of the more controversial proposals could be easily approved by the House of Deputies. The votes are there. There is a great deal of speculation, though, that the House of Bishops may be the more conservative and constraining body of this convention. It will be interesting to see.

I am about to leave my room and go to the legislative session which begins at 3:00 pm. It is a three hour session today -- our only business today. I have a legislative committe meeting first thing in the morning and THEN I am taking the rest of the day off. Nora and I will be celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary tomorrow -- one of life's great blessings. I appreciate David Knight sitting for me tomorrow. I know that Nora is thankful, too -- that we are not at Camp Bratton Green, where we have observed a few anniversaries in the past!

Please keep us all in your prayers.

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