Saturday, July 14, 2012

Many Missing the Mark on General Convention

Ah, if only it were so easy for all of us to wave our hands dismissively at nearly two million people as it apparently is for Jay Akasie, the ironically named David Virtue, and Rob Kirby. To read their reporting on the just concluded 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, you would think that everyone who stands steadfastly with that denomination - as I do - is going straight to hell.

How dare we consider restructuring the hierarchy to make it a more grassroots-driven denomination!

How dare we develop a budget that focuses on strengthening our capability for effective mission in the world!

How dare we pass a resolution authorizing the development of a provisional rite of blessing for same-sex unions!

How dare we ... LOVE?

Yes, Mr. Akasie, Mr. Virtue, and Mr. Kirby, the point you have missed throughout all of this is that we are a denomination of love. While you have gone in and selectively focused on the crozier carried by the Presiding Bishop, on whether to sell the church headquarters building in New York, and even on your continuing vitriolic (and horribly uninformed, Mr. Kirby) attacks on Bishop Gene Robinson, you have in your mad, blind rush missed the entire point.

Everything - EVERYTHING - accomplished by our deputies and bishops in Indianapolis has been done out of a sense of God's abiding love for everyone (yes, even you, Mr. Akasie, Mr. Virtue, and Mr. Kirby, your best efforts to display your true lack of understanding of who we are and what we stand for to the contrary).

Why pass a resolution authorizing this new rite? Because the Episcopal Church - as Mr. Akasie, a professed member of the denomination, should know very well - has a sign hanging by the door saying "All Are Welcome".  Why would the church not take an action to live into our advertising? For that matter, why do we allow women to serve as priests and bishops? (Thank God that we do!) Why did our church both walking with Dr. King and supporting the Civil Rights Movement?  (Mr. Akasie, Mr. VIrtue, and Mr. Kirby - any of you ever heard of Jonathan Myrick Daniels?)

Because we Episcopalians love - we accept - we welcome.

Christ's love is unconditional - he loved because he IS love - and it never misses the mark. The love of the Episcopal Church is unconditional, and it never misses the mark.

Sadly, the absence of love - even the word itself - in some of what we're reading is full of conditions and misses the mark completely.

So, Mr. Akasie, Mr. Virtue, Mr. Kirby, and others of your ilk - please stop reading everything with a hand over one eye. Stop finding what you want to see instead of looking for what's really there. And remember that, disagree with the Episcopal Church or not, disagree with our actions or not, you're missing the point.

It's not dollars and cents. It's not resolutions and budgets. It's not walkouts or sell-offs.

It's love.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Walk Through the Door, for the Episcopal Church Welcomes YOU!

Two events this week at the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Indianapolis have made me reflect on the famous logo found hanging at every Episcopal parish in the United States.

I have always been proud of the fact that the sign proclaims boldly and clearly that the Episcopal Church welcomes YOU - no asterisks, no exceptions, no conditions.  What has been disconcerting to me is the fact that our denomination has not always fully lived into the message we post on the sign - "It says I'm welcome, but do they mean ME?"  "I'm a poor black woman; do they mean ME?"  "I'm a gay partnered man; can they really mean ME?"  For every class, ethnicity, lifestyle or income level, I'm sure that someone, somewhere has asked, "Does the Episcopal Church really want ME? Will they accept ME?  Will they allow ME to be part of their family and feel the love and compassion that I need?"

In short, yes, we will!

Yesterday and today, the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies - by wide margins - each approved a resolution allowing for the creation of a liturgy for blessing same-sax couples.  There are many things this is not: it is not a marriage ceremony; it is not mandatory; it is not something that every bishop will allow in their own dioceses, based on their own beliefs.  But it is a move farther along the path than the church has taken up until now.  And it is one more step down the road for the LGBT community who wants nothing more from their fellow Episcopal parishioners than the same love, acceptance and blessings they have already received from God.

This is a big switch for the Episcopal Church, and as such it makes me view the sign with a slightly different logo - The Episcopal Church Welcomes Change.  With this convention, it's not just change in liturgy; we are headed down the path for wholesale change in structure.  Earlier today, in a overwhelming and - according to friends of mine who are in attendance at the convention - emotional vote, the House of Deputies voted unanimously (that's a unanimous vote by more than 800 clergy and lay deputies!!) to approve Resolution C095.

What is Resolution C095?  According to the Episcopal News Service, "Resolution C095, Substitute, was adopted unanimously by the committee during its July 9 morning meeting. It grounds its action in the belief that 'the Holy Spirit is urging The Episcopal Church to reimagine itself.'  It creates a special task force of up to 24 people who will gather ideas in the next two years from all levels of the church about possible reforms to its structures, governance and administration."  Should the House of Bishops also approve the resolution, the report of recommendations will be completed this November and will be discussed and debated at the 78th General Convention in a few years.

What will these changes entail?  No one knows - the Spirit is just now beginning to move.  Over the past several days, I've read reports of requests for the church to sell the Episcopal Church headquarters building in New York and use the excess money for mission.  I've seen reports on a move to allow (require?) future presiding bishops to maintain their duties as diocesan bishops while leading the national church.

Whatever the future looks like - a changing hierarchy, an altered structure, a more grassroots level of leadership - the church will focus on mission, even more than it does today.  As the Presiding Bishop said in her opening sermon, "Re-forming and re-imagining ourselves for mission in a changed world is the most essential task we have before us.  We’re not going to fix the church or the world at this Convention, but we can do something to make the church a better tool and instrument for God’s mission if we can embrace that new wind, discover God creating new life among us, and listen and look for Jesus."

Listen and look for Jesus.  With all due respect to Bishop Katharine, I think that last phrase should have a bit of different emphasis.  Re-read it this way:  "Listen ... and look for Jesus."  With the events of the past several days, we're witnessing an Episcopal Church that is listening - listening to those who have been neglected or rejected or ignored and working to bring them through the front door.  And when you change the way you relate to others, change the way you see others, and change the way they see themselves, you open yourself to the face of Christ.

And it is that Christ who is standing in the door of the Episcopal Church, welcoming all, comforting all, refreshing all.  Yes - the Episcopal Church welcomes YOU!