A Letter from Bishop Benfield
A decade can make a huge difference. My first experience of the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church was in 2007, and my first General Convention was in 2009. In those days there was still considerable unease in the House of Bishops over where each bishop stood on a variety of issues, and roll call votes were frequent. The General Convention that ended last week in Austin was so very different. People listened respectfully to one another, and the level of collegiality was amazingly good.
We experienced some significant moments at the meeting. The most meaningful to me was the witness of the dad of one of the teenagers killed in the Ash Wednesday school shooting in Florida. I have rarely seen someone so gracious, composed, and theologically eloquent in the aftermath of what had to be one of the most terrible moments of his life. We can learn much from his testimony to God’s love.
A second major event was the telling of stories of how people have been harassed in the church that they love so much—sometimes professionally and sometimes on the most personal and physical levels. We can learn much from their stories as well on how we are called to respect others.
Yet a third major moment for me was the readmission of the Diocese of Cuba after the House of Bishops had cast Cuba out in 1965. There was much rejoicing in a wrong that was finally righted.
We made some decisions on liturgy so that in the future congregations can find more ways to worship. Don’t worry: we still have the 1979 Book of Common Prayer as the way that we worship, and we will continue to use it. But we are going to give priests and congregations some tools by which they can see what additional language might work in their local contexts. If there is one thing that being at a General Convention does, it is to expose us to the truth that we have people from so many cultures—from native Alaskans to Taiwanese to Latinos—whose worship needs are sometimes different from what we “middle of the United States” people experience.
From General Convention we took away the assurance that the church will continue to focus on three areas: racial reconciliation, evangelism, and the care of creation. In our own diocese we began to address racial reconciliation at our last diocesan convention, and we will address the other two areas in coming conventions.
I want to thank all the people from Arkansas who attended. We had women from the Episcopal Church Women organization (Sandra Powers received an ECW award for her work), young adults, participants in the Episcopal Peace Fellowship (Caroline Stevenson received recognition for her ongoing work for peace), and our deputation of laity and clergy. Their participation made me proud to be from this diocese. All of you should be proud of them as well. They are great examples of how leadership in the church can be exercised with grace, intelligence, and conscientiousness to the task to which they have been assigned.