Today was the first legislative day for the 76th General Convention. It has been a very full day and there is much yet to happen later tonight. I am currently sitting in the massive Pacific Ballroom of the Hilton Anaheim, awaiting an address by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend and Right Honorable Rowan Williams. He will be speaking to us in a few minutes about the global economic crisis. After this session, the committee on which I serve, Ministry, will hold hearings on a cluster of resolutions regarding funding of theological education.
Our day began with our very first legislative session of the House of Deputies at 8:00 a.m. That meeting dealt almost exclusively with organizational matters – parliamentary and canonical necessities which make the things we do in the coming days legal. It lasted only an hour, but got the convention launched.
At 9:15, we celebrated our first convention Eucharist. It was a stirring and wonderful celebration with much more than 1,000 people present. The music was a potent blend of several traditions, from the traditional African music in keeping with our convention theme, Ubuntu, to the standard and beloved hymns we sing in Mississippi congregations. The liturgy of the service would be very familiar to Mississippi Episcopalians, utilizing Eucharistic Prayer B. Bits of the service were said in Spanish, out of respect for the breadth of Hispanic participation in the convention. I found it blended well. It was a wonderful service.
The Presiding Bishop served as celebrant and preacher. Her sermon was remarkable (I have found that any one of the PBs’ sermons – Bishop Griswold’s or Bishop Katharine’s – during General Conventions would suffice as my summa theologica, if I had the erudition and insight to write them). Their quality of preaching – past and present – has been extraordinary.
The PB took as her text this morning’s Old Testament lesson from Ezekiel 36:24-26. She spoke of the power and promise of God, spoken through Ezekiel, that He would give his people a new heart. She spoke of this in the image of a heart transplant.
I cannot do justice to that very fine sermon. And even though I took copious notes, I will not transcribe them here. I will summarize them, though.
We were recognizing the Anglican Church in the Philippines at the service this morning, and their primate was present for the service. Bishop Katharine spoke of the roots of the Anglican Church in the Philippines, first given birth by the Episcopal Missionary Bishop Charles Henry Brent, sent there in 1901. The Philippine Church became an autonomous province – free of colonial roots and connections – in 1990. They have since become self-sufficient, yet in a covenant relationship with the Episcopal Church.
Bishop Katharine noted that even though different parts of the body work together; the ear is not the toe, nor the arm an eye. It is true of the Body of Christ, too. She said that when parts of the Body work together, they understand their unique gifts to the Body’s functioning, as well as their limitations. Speaking in terms of the Body of Christ, the Philippine Church could not be the Church in Haiti, but they could work to support one another.
She also observed that the strength of the Philippine Church was born in the spirit of mission which helped birth it. Charles Henry Brent, the Missionary Bishop, sent his missionaries into the hills and mountains outside of the cities. That is where the strength of the Philippine Church is found today.
The Presiding Bishop said, “Our heart will certainly turn to stone if we think our mission is to those already in our lovely pews or in the pews of other churches… The challenge is whether we will receive new life… Abundant life is not only promised, but realized by giving ourselves to a languishing world.”
She closed quietly: “Can you hear the heart? Mission… mission… mission.” There was a period of silence as the call to mission sunk into the hearts and minds of her listeners.
After the Eucharist, we moved to legislative committee meetings. I am thoroughly enjoying working with my small subcommittee as we work to perfect nine or ten specific resolutions. It is a very convivial and agreeable group. Three members of the subcommittee are people of whom I had heard in the past. It has been good to get to know and work with them.
We met as a deputation for lunch. We discussed the activities of our various committees, and those we have been following. The lunch meetings are helpful and constructive.
We had additional committee meetings from 2:00 until 4:00 this afternoon, after which came another legislative session. Most of what we have considered thus far has been routine and non-controversial. However, there were two resolutions which we adopted this afternoon which gave an insight into the future. They have to do with our funding priorities for the coming six years.
The first of those two resolutions was D-052, which set the budget priorities for the coming three years. The five major categories were the following:
Networking the members of the Body of Christ
Alleviating Poverty and Injustice
Claiming our Identity
Growing Congregations and the Next Generations of Faith
Strengthening Governance and the Foundations for Ministry
There are several additional program emphases under each of these priorities. The text of the resolution may be found at http://gc2009.org/ViewLegislation/view_leg_detail.aspx?id=1035&type=Current
We also looked into the future, the following triennium, 2013-2015, adopting the “Five Marks of Mission” as articulated by the Anglican Communion as the foundations for budget priorities during that time. Those five marks include the following:
To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
To teach, baptize and nurture new believers
To respond to human need by loving service
To seek to transform unjust structures of society
To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.
More information on that resolution may be found at: http://gc2009.org/ViewLegislation/view_leg_detail.aspx?id=981&type=Current
Keep in mind that these funding priority resolutions have passed the House of Deputies only and must go before the House of Bishops. I would note that each of these passed the House of Deputies without dissent.
These details may be dry to the reader, but they (along with the preaching of the Presiding Bishop) give me hope for a future. I am optimistic that we will be freed from much of our internal bickering. That is not to minimize the seriousness of the issues we face (they are real), but this peak into future priorities portend a time of focus on broader mission and ministry.
I ask your indulgence for any mistakes in this blog. I am writing "on the run" -- trying to get these posted in a timely manner.