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!

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