After the close of the Episcopal Church's General Convention, I have been thinking and praying about what was done, and left undone, in Anaheim. Having never been a deputy to GC, I don't judge them. The two houses, of Bishops and Deputies, have an incredible, Herculean task of taking three years of reaction (from the last triennial) and three years of projection (the next triennial) into full account. There are budgets, resolutions and policy statements to vote on and take action over. They have mountains of legislation to negotiate and debate...and they have to get it all done in under a fortnight. On top of that, they are tasked with remembering themselves, and reminding us of the fact that we are a family in Christ. Whatever else we undertake in terms of work as Church, it is our first priority to bear witness to the grace and glory of Jesus Christ and to proclaim the Good News in his presence in the world.
Again, all in a fortnight.
That makes for some hair-raising and crazy happenings. In my lifetime, the Church has evolved from the denomination that was perceived as the Church of the Rich, Connected and Powerful. We were the Church of the Founding Fathers. We were the Established, the Elite. There was a church cartoon not too many years ago that had the rector greeting people at the church door after a service. The sermon title behind his head on the church's sign read, "Evangelism, welcoming new members." The rector was greeting a matron of the parish who was saying to him, "A lovely sermon, Father....but everyone in this community who should be an Episcopalian already is one!"
That Church, I pray and hope, is not going to be around too much longer. Really, we can't afford to be around and persist in that way of thinking. On a practical level, that manner of life is not Christian any more than someone joining a country club or social service fraternity is at its core. To be a member of a club or society is to accept a set of rules and conventions that determine association and proscribe behaviors. Be in Rotary, accept the way Rotarians live. That is NOT to bust on Rotarians, or to say that joining a country club is somehow an affront to living a life of integrity as a Christian. I am just saying that being Church is not in any way like being a member of a club. A Church, I am coming to understand, is a gathering of people who have, being touched by the hand of God, realize that they are unable to continue living a life that does not entail being stretched and challenged in an ongoing way by Jesus' command to love God will every fiber of our being and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
The General Convention, from what I have read and heard, has reaffirmed that we are indeed a Church and that we have work to do. The Good News needs to be proclaimed. The sick, halt and lame need to be healed. The poor need to be offered consolation. Every bit of creation needs to be loved and we need to remember that if the Word of God means anything, well...we have been named stewards over the whole lovely mess.
I am a child of the Book of Common Prayer. I was born, and was baptized, under the 1928 version. I grew up convinced that God spoke with a Shakespearean accent. For the past 30 years I have worshipped with the 1979 version...and the revolution of that change continues to activate and provoke me. The core, central reality of our Church now is a Baptismal Covenant that roots us in an historical, biblical faith. It is a faith in which we acknowledge that we are "not quite there yet" with regard to righteousness...and it finishes off with three challenges to proclaim, serve and strive for the incoming reign of Christ and for the well-being of our fellow creatures.
Too often in my ministry and life, I find myself and those around me forgetting to keep that call at the forefront of how I make choices, how I approach relationships and how I deal with the conflicts and brokenness of my life and the lives of others.
Mercy is a gift from God...but it is only effective when it is shared. The same holds true for all the other gifts of the spirit. What comes around can only go around when we have the courage to put it out there.
Here's to GC...they took the great good risk of simply reaffirming the reality we already share-that we are a Church committed first and foremost to reconciliation and justice for all God's created. Period.