This weekend, the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast gathered at its 42nd Annual Convention in a rainy, fogging Panama City Beach, Florida. I left Foley on Thursday morning feeling anxious. For the 10th straight year, congregational pledges to the Diocese had decreased. The proposed budget included significant cuts to youth ministry ($0), clergy conference ($0), seminarian aid (33% decrease), and Murray House (70% decrease). Resolution 1, on structural reform, proposed by me and several quality co-signers had created some buzz in the days leading up to convention, and a strong caution from the Bishop that “this would be controversial.” Resolution 2, on Israel and Palestine, threatened to bring forth deep divisions within our Diocese. My Acts 8 Gathering for Friday evening had not been well advertised. Finally, my wife and almost 4 year-old daughter were coming to play at the beach with a forecast for 4 inches of rain.
To say that I was less than enthused about the prospects of this convention would be an understatement. Today, however, I find myself in a much better place, having once again realized that God’s ways are not my ways, and for that, I am once again grateful. The Resolutions Committee decided to put forward a substitute Resolution 2, affirming the action of General Convention in Resolution B019. The Committee also decided to strengthen the language of Resolution 1, by challenging the power structure of the Diocese as well as ensure funding for the resulting committee. The game of church politics being what it is, Resolution 2 was further amended, by me, in consultation with the Chancellor and Parliamentarian. Its final form can be found here.
Skipping ahead to Saturday morning’s business session for a moment, I share with much joy and all the humility I can muster that Resolution 1 was passed by the 42nd Annual Convention of the Central Gulf Coast, unanimously. The silence that fell upon the room after the Bishop invited “no” votes, was palpable. It shared a striking resemblance to the shock I felt on the floor of the House of Deputies when the same sort of holy silence fell upon a divided house united, if only for a moment, in the goal of more effectively sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ to a broken world. I was not alone in getting goose bumps, and am proud to have been a part of what will, I hope, prove to be the beginning of a new chapter in the life and ministry of The Episcopal Church in the Central Gulf Coast.
Additional items debated and resolved included:
- Yes, on the substitute for Resolution 2.
- No, on Resolution 3: appointing a Task Force of the Finance Committee to evaluate the sale of Murray House.
- No, on amending the budget to included $8,000 for clergy conference by pulling $2k from Beckwith, $3k from Murray House, and $3k from Sewanee.
- Yes, on amending the budget to include $50,000 for a diocesan youth ministry facilitator by pulling $25k from Beckwith and $25k from Wilmer Hall.
While the hard work done behind the scenes on Resolution 1 made that vote taste very sweet, one event held at Convention runs neck and neck with it as my favorite. On Friday afternoon, TKT and I held and Acts 8 Gathering. Our advertising for it included an invitation for anyone interested in prayer, Bible Study, and the future of the Diocese. We also handed out buttons
Twenty-five people attended our Gathering, including 9 clergy. After 36 hectic hours and with a long slog to go, I was surprised to have such a good turnout. After some prayer, we split into small groups and did an impromptu study of Acts 8:1-8. We asked the group to reflect on two questions: What strikes you in this story? and What does this passage have to do with our church today? Here are the answers:
What jumped out at you?
- The dichotomy between fear and joy
- Stepping out of our comfort zones
- The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus was a part of who they were, they couldn’t help but talk about it
- What brings me joy?
What is the word for the Church today?
- The Church should be an example of Christians behaving boldly (not badly) with love and care
- We are empowered to step outside the Church and be the body
- How are we devastators of the Church and how are we holding her back?
- How do we exist/grow within the boundaries that exist in our culture?
- Passionate Action
- What are the miracles we perform in our churches?
- How do we set free those who are paralyzed by fear?
- Confidence to proclaim wherever we go.
We also did “I dream of a church that…” and a video will be forthcoming. Jessica, a lay delegate from Christ Church Pensacola, has written a reflection as well, you should really read it.
I, for one, am excited about the future of the Church. As I told the Acts 8 group, my undergraduate studies have conditioned my mind to think in terms of SWOT analysis. What are our Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats? I think half of our problem is that we see everything as weakness and treat, rather than realizing opportunity. I hope and pray that Acts 8 and Resolution 1 can help us to see again that opportunity abounds in the Lord who can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.