Thursday, July 9, 2009

Reflections on Another Day

The Archbishop of Canterbury was our preacher at the General Convention Eucharist this morning, after he spoke at a global economic crisis forum last night. Los Angeles Bishop Jon Bruno (a former Oakland Raider lineman and police officer) was the celebrant.

Archbishop Williams opened his meditation by acknowledging “that everything you say as Archbishop of Canterbury is picked over for hidden meaning and code words. I assume that will be the case today.” (Please note that I have done my best to take accurate notes; however, I am fallable.)

So, he chose to get two items on the table, plainly and forthrightly: “Thank you for the invitation to be here and to your engagement with all of us.” He said that he was aware of sacrifices which had been made by people in the Episcopal Church in order to engage recent Anglican Communion processes.

He also said, “I come with hopes and anxieties… I hope decisions will not be made to push us farther apart… It is a concern because we need you.” Drawing on the Gospel lesson today (John 15:15-17), he went on to say that, “We have been spoken to by Christ and our fellowship is from him… We are friends of his… We are holy because we have been brought into a holy conversation.

“Our presence here is evidence of a humanity broken open for divine intimacy,” he said, noting that our being broken open exposes our human limitations and frailties. “Jesus dies because we don’t want to die – to ourselves and our own interests and desires.”

He said that as a result of our fear of death to self, we “collude with the death of the poor, the ravages of AIDS, economic injustice” and other manifestations of sin in the world. The church, he said, is here to name death and our fear of it, and “to promise life in Jesus Christ.

“To be holy is to share life in the face of many forms of death… Life is found in giving up the need to justify self… We are bound to each other” in new life and holy love.

Having heard Archbishop Williams speak three times now, I was moved by the wisdom and insight of his preaching. He was warmly welcomed by the convention and we were grateful to have him with us.

There was a great deal of committee work today. We began at 7:00 a.m. and concluded the first session at 9:15 a.m. After the Eucharist and a brief lunch break, we went back into committees for another two hours at 2:00 p.m. I am glad to say that the subcommittee I chair in the Ministry Committee has perfected all the resolutions which we were assigned. One involved significant amendments of Title III, Canon 9, Sections 12-20 – the portion of the ministry canons which pertain to the mediation and dissolution of a pastoral relationship. The resolution was largely drafted by former deputy and Mississippian, the Reverend Stan Runnels, now in the Diocese of West Missouri. That portion of Title III has needed amendment for some time and I am hopeful that our final result will be approved.

The House of Deputies spent an hour this afternoon in the Committee of the Whole, a non-legislative format which allowed one-on-one reflection between deputies from different dioceses concerning B-033. B-033 is the 2006 resolution which called for restraint by Bishops and Standing Committees in confirming election of Bishops whose “manner of life” might pose problems to the wider communion. We will have another hour of the Committee of the Whole on the same subject tomorrow.

The status of B-033 is clearly becoming one of the major issues on the horizon. Another will be the disposition of resolutions regarding the blessing of same sex unions. Nearly all of those resolutions have been referred to the Committee on World Mission, largely because of the communion-wide impact of those issues. It has also been speculated that the World Mission Committee was chosen because legislation emanating from it is sent to the House of Deputies first. It has been further speculated – and I think accurately so – that the House of Deputies is much more amenable to these resolutions than the House of Bishops.

It is clear to me that the dynamics of the House of Deputies have changed. There is an absence of the very conservative voices which once were present in the former leadership of dioceses such as Pittsburgh and Fort Worth. I think this will mean a less contentious house, but also a house which is less restrained by a very conservative wing. This places more pressure on the House of Bishops to maintain some sense of balance.

One observation I would offer is this: It is terribly easy to see this convention – especially from afar and through set lenses of interpretation – in a single-dimensional manner. I think that is a tendency in contemporary society – to see political figures, ethical issues, and societal trends in a dualistic manner, all good, all evil, all helpful or all destructive. That tendency toward dualism – seeing everything in black and white, without shades of gray – was identified with an early heresy in the history of the church.

What I encounter here (and at past General Conventions) is multi-dimensional, with many hues and shades. There are hundreds and hundreds (even thousands) of faithful people here who worship Jesus Christ and share in the historic faith. We say prayers together. They minister in powerful and transformative ways in their respective communities. They speak my language and others. They represent all sorts and conditions of human beings – young, old, male, female, black, white, Hispanic, Native American, oriental, European; able-bodied and disabled; tall, short, heavy and slender; conservative, liberal and moderate.

Some of them have very different perspectives and opinions from mine. Some of their life-styles are contrary to my own. Several of my friends here are living in relationships outside of marriage – faithful, devoted, caring and long-term. We gather around the same altar, we say the same prayers to the Lord God we deeply love, and we share one loaf and one cup. I care for them deeply and I admire their struggle to live their faith in a meaningful way that offers hope to others. They have been patient and understanding as the church has debated the validity of their personal relationships.

I still tend to be traditional. But I cannot delude myself into believing that these issues are totally black and white. These are brothers and sisters in Christ.

I love this church and the Christ I encounter in its people and sacraments. This is my home. I am here to stay.

Thank you for the honor and opportunity to be a deputy from Mississippi. Please keep us all in your prayers.

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