For ten days in July I sat on the floor of the House of Deputies at The 79th General Convention of The Episcopal Church. There were volumes of dialogue (most orderly, respectful, civil and diverse, I might add) that challenged my visual learning style. I have discovered that when I “take notes” in word pictures, I not only can recall later what was spoken but I engage and incorporate the Creative in my integration of transformative information. Following are some of my notes with some brief interpretation of the artwork. The titles are mine as I perceived them.
- Opening address “Episcopal Branch of the The Jesus Movement”
The Most Rev. Michael Curry The 79th General Convention of The Episcopal Church was opened with a compelling message from our Presiding Bishop, The Most Rev. Michael Curry. His message is consistent in every address I have heard in person, on TV and on YouTube: we are here to be vessels of God’s love in the world. His constant reminder is that we are the “Episcopal Branch” of The Jesus Movement begun over 2,000 years ago. In stepping up in our actions, we are given instructions how to live this life: A participant in the Jesus Movement loves, gives, pursues justice, and walks humbly with God. In calling us back to the roots of our Christian faith, Presiding Bishop Curry shared a story of Starbucks. He reflected upon the restructuring in 2008, eluding to the smell of burning cheese overpowering the smell of coffee confronting potential customers who entered Starbucks stores. We, the church, need to eliminate the smell of burning cheese among us.
- Opening Address “It’s Time to Remove Our Blinders”
The Rev. Gaye Jennings, President of House of Deputies Building on the address of our Presiding Bishop, The. Rev. Gaye Jennings, our House President and chair of our gathering, we were challenged to identify the lens through which we identify the Kingdom of God. We were exhorted to also identify our personal blinders that prevent us from seeing those systems, realities, and damaging behaviors that hinder our progress to becoming a global Beloved Community. Paraphrasing the text (Hebrews 11:8-18) used in the address, we can maintain our individual identity while loving others in/of foreign lands.
- Sermon of Opening Worship
“Abide in me /Throw yourself into the loving arms of God” The Most Rev. Michael Curry Bishop’s, Deputies, volunteers, family members, and visitors gathered for our Opening Worship. The service followed opening addresses, House procedure orientation, rehearsal of voting with electronic devices, and a tutorial through our virtual binder (Convention “green” resource for all written information). I hope that all readers have had an opportunity to hear our Presiding Bishop speak! (Numerous talks are available on YouTube). In this dynamic sermon, Presiding Bishop spoke words of comfort and encouragement referring to our Gospel reading from John 15. He quoted words of a hymn, “keep your eyes on the prize” and “throw yourself into the living arms of God.” To underscore this, he used the story of Peter stepping out of the boat on a stormy sea, seeking the safety in Jesus’ arms. We, too, are called to step out of our perceived safety in our respective “boats” and walk boldly and guided by and into the loving arms of God as we work to transform this planet into a Beloved Community.
- Joint Session #1- Reconciliation
Four Speakers In addition to the separate legislative sessions held by both Houses, there were several gatherings in Joint Session, focusing on the pillars of this Convention and The Jesus Movement (Reconciliation, Evangelism, and Care for Creation), with the bishops coming to the floor of the House of Deputies. Guest speakers took the stage at each of these and addressed specifics topics. The first of the topics was Reconciliation. Enthusiastic and inspiring testimonial sharing was offered in song, poetry and moving personal stories. Transformation can be experienced as magic. We can pick up the two-edged “sword” of forgiveness and compassion to combat harmful and separating behaviors. Human atrocities were identified so that we might be challenged to wake up, rise up and take action … individually as we are called and collectively as we are empowered, affirming that Everyone Matters!
NUMEROUS committees, individuals with questions, amendments, and points of order. The elections are the major work of the General Convention- working hard to guide and direct the geographically expansive people within The Episcopal Church in their practices, polity, and relationships in governance. Woven through the necessary hours of minutia of Resoltions, over 500 to the House of Deputies, and subsequent Amendments were moments of light-heartedness- our daily guests of the pigeon pair, musical compositions, and the lilting voice of our Secretary of Elections, Winnie Varghese. The resolutions were presented to both houses from 25 different working committees which met throughout the Convention to review, hear testimony, revise, reject or present to the floor. Conscious effort was made to align resolutions within The Jesus Movement and its pillars: Reconcilliation, Evangelism, and Care for Creation. Among the highlights of resolutions passed were admittance of Cuba to The Episcopal Church; addressing and responding to those affected in the church, “Me Too”; reconciliation, inclusion, and governance respecting all persons.
- Joint Session #2 - Revival
The work of the Spirit, to me, is most always about revival: a quickening of the human spirit toward the divine. The term revival calls forth a variety of responses both positive and resistant. The speakers inspired and helped to reframe our tradition’s apparent understanding of that word, evangelize. I found the stories shared of God’s work in the efforts of individuals sharing God’s love in this hurting world to be inspiring, evocative, and personally challenging. In the stories, I heard it is the call of each of us to share with others our own story of God’s transformative in our lives with those among whom we move and to listen and watch for opportunities outside our comfort zones. Highlights of the stories assured Evangelism: does not call for snake-handling; does call for us, like the Nike slogan says, just do it!; encourages s from sacred texts to remember our first Love (Rev. 2) and have life abundant and joy (John 17); and is an exhortation to find as descriptive and enticing words to share our personal Gospel message likened to description of eating pizza in Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love.
- Joint Session #3 - “Care for Creation”
Our sacred text begins with our stories of creation. As our planet, in the ongoing creative process, labors, travails, and continues to become densely populated, the Convention was challenged to remember its responsibility to be good stewards of creation. Our Convention Chaplain led in a rousing song of praise “Ibona! Yabo!” (Tr: I see you. And I see you) … a song acknowledging that all of creation is connected. This is also depicted in the image of the butterfly…”the butterfly effect” - effects of a butterfly flapping its wings on one side of the world can be felt on the other side. We heard the heart-wrenching story from a young woman of the Gwich’in tribe in Alaska. She proclaimed that she was before us not asking for anything. She relayed that her tribe who for over 40 generations has depended upon the porcupine caribou for their livelihood. The current administration has authorized drilling and pipeline development in the lands occupied by these people and herds. This threatens the ability to survive of both. Issues of water injustice and water shortages were also addressed.
- Joint Session #4 - Presentation of the Budget
Obviously, few entities exist without a financial component. For sure, The Episcopal Church is no exception and has been empowered with the immense responsibility of appropriating funds to assist in the expansion of God’s Beloved Community in the myriad of ways and layers of need in the world. The Committee appointed to formulate the Triennium budget arrived at General Convention with a draft budget and listened to long lines of testimonies, spent long hours in Committee to deliberate, and presented a balanced $13.4 M budget. It was passed in The House of Deputies on Day 8.